Doctors' Notes

The Gift of Life: Organ Donation

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Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson.  The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans.  Please feel free to send them questions via digitalpitches@ebony.comWe promise to keep it anonymous. 


In this season of giving, let’s not forget the importance of giving back to the community in a meaningful way.  All month long, we’re focusing on “Giving the Gift of Life” and the various ways you can affect the health of your friends, loved ones and your community.

So what do comedian Tracy Morgan, songstress Natalie Cole and former NBA star Alonzo Mourning have in common?  They have all been the recipients of organ donations.  Just like these famous faces, those most in need of organ donation, look a lot like us.  In fact, one out of every three people waiting for an organ donation are African American.

Sadly, although we are most in need, Blacks make up only 15 percent of donors.  As a community, we are simply not very likely to register to become organ donors.  A lot of our reluctance is wrapped in fear, the unknown, and not understanding the need.  Here we dispel some of the biggest myths and break down the basics of organ donation, to help you consider how easy it would be to give the gift of life that keeps on giving, long after you’re gone.

Myth #1: If I sign up to become an organ donor, doctors will be too quick to get my organs and won’t do their best to save my life.

Dr. Rob says: This is not true.  Every effort is always made to save your life in the event of a tragic health crisis.  Truth be told, the medical team in charge of your care is separate from the medical team that coordinates organ donation.  They are only contacted once all lifesaving efforts have failed.  Retrieving organs is a very lengthy process with many layers including evaluation of the donor and organ, and also obtaining consent.

Myth #2: I have high blood pressure or diabetes, so no one could use my organs anyway.

Dr. Karla says: Believe it or not, there are very few conditions that immediately disqualify you from being an organ donor.  Therefore, it is important not to rule yourself out.  Those with active cancer, HIV, or other serious infections would not be allowed to be an organ donor, but those with other chronic diseases might still be able to save another’s life.

Myth #3: If you have the money, you can go to the top of the waiting list.

Dr. Rob says: This is a huge misconception.  It may certainly seem that way because of the amount of publicity generated when celebrities receive a transplant, but they do not receive preferential treatment.  Let’s not forget that NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton died waiting in line for a liver. The reality is that celebrity and financial status are not a factor in the organ donation process.

Myth #4: Very few organs can be used for transplant, so it’s not a big deal.

Dr. Rob says: This can’t be further from the truth.  With the advances of modern medicine we now see transplants including the eyes, the middle ear, skin, veins, cartilage, bone, heart valves, tendons, ligaments as well as the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines.  It is now possible to give life in many different ways.

Myth #5: It is a difficult and confusing process to become an organ donor.

Dr. Karla says: It’s very easy to become an organ donor.  In most states you can sign up at your local DMV when obtaining a driver’s license or state ID.  You can also visit to register with your local organ donor registry.  Hospitals can legally proceed with organ, eye or tissue donation, without consent from next of kin, if you have an “organ donor” designation. But it’s important to talk to your family about your decision to become an organ donor so they are aware of your wishes and will feel comfortable honoring them.

As this year is coming to a close and we are making plans for the upcoming year, let’s include a unique goal of making the difference in the lives of many.  Consider registering to be an organ donor to give the give of life.


It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!

About the Doctors:

Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show.  For more from the doctors, visit their website at, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!