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VOL. 129 | NO. 73 | Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tennessee Lags in Organ Donor Registration

By Don Wade

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Attitudes about the donation of organs for transplantation are very supportive, a recent national study found, but the percentage of people who have granted permission on their driver’s license lags behind, and this is especially true in Tennessee.

The 2012 National Survey of Organ Donation Attitudes and Behavior found that 94.4 percent of U.S. adults supported or strongly supported donation in 2012. And nationally, there was an increase in the percentage of people who had granted permission on their driver’s license – jumping from 51.3 percent in 2005 to 60.1 percent in 2012.

But in Tennessee, the percentage who have granted permission on their driver’s license is still around 33 percent, said Kim Van Frank, executive director of the Mid-South Transplant Foundation (MSTF).


“Our goal is 50 percent,” she said.

April marks the 11th annual National Donate Life Month, which commemorates those who have given the gift of life through organ, eye and tissue donation. The aforementioned national study of more than 3,200 U.S. adults was conducted for the Health Resources and Services Administration through Gallup Inc.

Currently, there are 112 million registered donors in the United States. Yet more than 122,000 people are awaiting transplants.

The survey’s findings showed a significantly larger proportion of women (54.5 percent) granted permission than did not grant permission (47.5 percent). Those who have granted permission were significantly more likely than those who have not to have completed at least some college or higher education.

With respect to age, differences were found in the youngest and oldest groups. Those aged 18 to 34 (33.6 percent) were significantly more likely to have granted permission compared with those who have not granted permission (25.8 percent).

Those aged 66 and older (19.3 percent) were significantly more likely to have not granted permission than to have granted permission (13.7 percent).

Regarding race in the Mid-South, in 2007, only 27 percent of African-Americans when approached about donating the organs of a loved one in the face of a tragic death granted permission, according to Van Frank. But by 2013, that percentage had increased to 59 percent.

Since 2008, Van Frank said, Tennessee residents with a valid driver’s license have been able to go online at www.donatelifetn.org to express their wishes to donate their organs.

“We know one of our challenges is getting African-Americans to sign themselves up,” Van Frank said.

Nationally, in terms of those who had yet granted permission for donation, the 2012 survey found that whites were more likely to grant permission for organ donation than African-Americans and Hispanics. In fact, African-Americans were least open to organ donation (9.5 percent giving a definite yes in the survey), while Native Americans were most open to donation (32.8 percent definitely yes).

Yet Van Frank points out that in Memphis many of the people awaiting a kidney transplant (82 percent) are African-American.

And while it’s possible to achieve a match across race and ethnicity, “If you have a donor from the same ethnicity many times it does provide a better match,” Van Frank said.

Overall, the national study found that people were much more likely to be a “living donor” for a family member (73.3 percent) than any other relationship.

Van Frank says while they will register people to be donors at their April 26 event – the 2 p.m. Living Hands for Life free music fest at Levitt Shell in Overton Park – the day is meant more as a celebration of those who already have donated.

“I’ve never had a family come back and say, `I wish I hadn’t done this,’” Van Frank said. “It’s very healing for them – especially for parents whose children have died.”

Van Frank has been a nurse for more than 20 years and says since she became a nurse she has supported organ donation.

“I’ve always understood that when I leave this earth, I don’t need to take those organs with me,” she said. “Donation makes it possible for others to have life and to bring life into the world.”

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