CORE urges Blacks to register as organ donors

STEP UP—From left: Pastor Donald Tucker, Lisa Upsher and Moses Hart are pleading for African Americans to step up and register to become organ donors. (Photos by J.L. Martello)
STEP UP—From left: Pastor Donald Tucker, Lisa Upsher and Moses Hart are pleading for African Americans to step up and register to become organ donors. (Photos by J.L. Martello)

For approximately three years, Moses Hart has been waiting for an important call and the day he can hear, “We have a heart for you.” And this time he hopes it will be a perfect match. In January, after being on the heart transplant list, Hart was told a heart had been found, unfortunately, he was later told that the heart was not suitable for him. His wait began again.

“Imagine someone told you that you won the lottery and then you found out you had all the numbers but one and you were told it didn’t count. My feelings were in the stratosphere  (when he received the call) and when they told me it didn’t count, they hit ocean bottom,” Hart, 52 said.

It was while in the National Guard, Hart said, that doctors found his heart had been enlarged, probably due to a virus. Over the years his heart weakened and in 2000 he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease where the heart muscles are too weak to contract and which typically leads to heart failure. Several years later he was put on the list for the first time and implanted with a Left Ventricle Assist Device, which helps to pump blood into his body and vital organs like that of a heart.

Now, Hart, who enjoys reading, watching television, working out at the North Side YMCA and volunteering at the Center for Organ Recovery & Education as well as Allegheny General Hospital, waits patiently for his shot at another heart and said, “I’m just happy to be on this side of the dirt. I’m treating each day as an adventure, and try to tell people about organ donation when I have a chance and if they’re willing to listen…I know it’s (a heart) coming and that’s what I’m happy for.”

Hart’s story is like that of nearly 124,000 people nationwide who are waiting for an organ transplant, especially those who are African American. This month, CORE has joined other organ procurement organizations to celebrate National Donate Life Month, and is using Hart’s story and others to spread the word about the importance of registering to be an organ donor.

“Currently more than 123,000 people are on the waiting list and approximately 56 percent are multicultural. There is a need in the African American community to step up to be organ donors,” said Lisa Upsher, MOTTEP Program Director & Multicultural Faith Based Community Outreach Coordinator for CORE, on the importance of becoming an organ donor. “Be an organ donor; be a legacy for someone else. Let your life not be in vain; know that you have helped your fellow man.”

On April 17, CORE hosted a donor drive from 4-7 p.m. at Club One fitness facility in East Liberty in recognition of National Blue and Green Day, an initiative to get people talking about organ donation and its importance, and registered.

Upsher said with all the diabetes, hypertension, obesity and other genetic disorders affecting the African American community, it puts them at a greater risk for needing transplants. “The fact that we’re not giving, that makes the pool so much smaller as far as (those in need) having an opportunity to have a full life.”

While no one reason why African Americans are reluctant to register has been pinpointed, Upsher said the main ones are fear, lack of education about organ donation and a lack of trust of the medical community.

Like Upsher, Hart said he hears the later a lot. Many individuals refer to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Whatever the fear, Rev. Donald Tucker of Pittsburgh said, “people need to just conquer it.”

Reverend Tucker, who describes himself as a walking miracle thanks to God, was once, like Hart, waiting for an organ to be transplanted—he needed a liver. He also received multiple calls that it was his turn as well as several disappointments. But on March 25, 2007, the third call, his wait came to an end.

Reverend Tucker’s journey began four months prior to his transplant, during a physical where his physician noticed a spot on his liver and decided it needed to be checked. The spot rapidly grew from the size of a nickel to a silver dollar and he was told he needed a transplant as soon as possible.

Now years later, he is doing excellent and urges African Americans to get involved.

“We have to realize it’s one of the most important things we can do. When you’ve had to do what I’ve had to do, watch an 18-year-old or 19-year-old laying there waiting for a liver it’s heartbreaking. There just aren’t enough. And it’s not just the liver, it’s every part of the body,” said the longtime registered donor.

Individuals can register through the CORE website, Donate Life Pa.’s website and during the renewal of their driver’s license.

To spread awareness and education about organ donation, Upsher said CORE holds several events like its Gospel Idol, which will be held in July, as well as participating in health fairs and other organization’s events. But she urges other organizations and churches to get involved.

“We are always looking for any opportunity to make that plea,” she said.

As for his plea, Hart said, “No matter when you pass away, or go to see upper management, I think you get a brand new body, so don’t take the old stuff with you. Plus you set up a legacy that your parents or family can know and say, ‘hey, that person has part of my son or my daughter.’ You’re still there to make it happy for them.”

(For more information on organ donation and registration, call Upsher at 412-963-3550, email lupsher@core.org or visit www.core.org.)

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