During Black History Month, I can't help but think about this commemoration in relation to organ, eye and tissue donation. Dr. Maurice F. Rabb was the Illinois Eye-Bank's first medical director, and the first African-American eye bank medical director in the country. One of his key initiatives was to raise awareness about the need for organ, eye and tissue donation.
Today the number of African-Americans in need of donated organs far exceeds those who have signed up on the state Organ/Tissue Donor Registry. In Illinois, African-Americans make up 56 percent of those awaiting organs, but represent only 32 percent of the donor registry, according to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. As the executive director of the Illinois Eye-Bank, I would like to see this imbalance change.
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Among some blacks, there are myths and fears surrounding organ, eye and tissue donation that result in a hesitancy to sign up to donate. Many do come around to the idea when someone in their own family is in need of a transplant. I think of Gerry Bouey, a black resident of Plainfield, who lost a high-powered bank operations position after he lost his sight. When he received a cornea transplant, his vision returned to 20/40, and today he works with CEOs and corporations as a leadership consultant. His wife was originally opposed to signing up to become a donor until she realized the dramatic impact it had on Gerry's life.
Given the dire need of those who appear on transplant lists, I encourage all Illinois residents of every race to understand how the act of donation can help so many others, and to sign up on the Organ/Tissue Donor Registry as soon as they can.
Diane M. Hollingsworth
and kidney transplant recipient