Catch 22 – Cardiac Arrest Donors of Color Save Lives

By Donna Hernandez Jul 25, 2008

The experience of losing a loved can be even more devastating when you realize certain preventative measures could have avoided their level of illness. This thought came to mind today when I read a study about patients of color who receive a kidney from a cardiac failure patient having a higher level of success when the donor was also a person of color. I couldn’t help but remember my sister who I lost to kidney failure. The kidney failure was caused by insulin intake given to help control her juvenile diabetes. My older sister, who at the time was a healthy woman of color with similar genotype, donated my sister’s first kidney transplant. Her body rejected it due to a combination of things and she was then wait-listed again for two years before she became a candidate for another transplant. On the evening of her second “successful kidney transplant” my sister went into cardiac arrest and the success rate of her new kidney became a moot subject. The combination of drugs, fatigue and long-term affects of the insulin all played a factor in her passing. In communities of color, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes are very common diseases caused by various factors including need of good food sources, nutrition education, lack of preventative health care and slim access to eastern and homeopathic treatments to name a few. These diseases then lead to more complicated diseases that in turn lead to premature deaths. Preventative care is usually composed of western remedies that include many different levels of prescription drugs given to aid one thing but end up having an adverse affect on other vital organs like in my sisters’ case. A new study by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, although grim, shows that among Black patients, those who received kidneys from Black donors had better long-term kidney and patient survival than those who received kidneys from non-Black donors. Racial disparities were also reduced when patients received kidneys from Black donors whose deaths resulted from cardiac failure (kidneys rarely used by medical professionals, according to the study) versus Black donors whose kidneys were donated after brain death. Although the study states that Black patients in need of a kidney transplant are 2.7 % less likely than white patients to receive a kidney, it does not address how this gap can be closed. Nor does it even address the Catch 22 communities of color are faced with when it comes down to dealing with health issues that can force individuals to prioritize the importance of healing a kidney or healing a heart. The idea that a kidney patient in dire need of a kidney and well informed will turn down any available kidney is unrealistic. The number of Black and Latino patients registered on the wait list is much lower than Whites even though patients of color have a disproportionate number of patients with need. This study will hopefully motivate hospitals to use kidneys from cardiac failure patients more frequently, increase the knowledge of professionals on how to motivate patients of color to register for the wait list (by dealing with language barriers, ethnic and cultural differences), and even more importantly address the lack of preventative measures currently unavailable. The study discussed the deficiency of knowledge by the medical community to deal with cultural and ethnic needs of patients of color but it came short of making realistic recommendations for medical professionals with the power to affect some equitable change. It’s too late for my sister but it’s not too late for the 70,000-plus patients of color currently in need of a transplant and it’s certainly not too late for individuals on track to joining the long list of patients diagnosed with kidney disease. The study was published online in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.