The current climate in America has upended our nation as few years have in the past. The coronavirus healthcare (and subsequent economic) crisis, coupled with the national awakening and unrest demanding equality for all of our citizens, has rocked the very foundation of our county. Most importantly it has challenged each of us to rise to new levels of awareness, social responsibility, commitment and justice.

OneLegacy is one of the many who has answered that call.

Dedicated to saving lives through organ, eye and tissue donation, OneLegacy serves 20 million people and more than 200 hospitals throughout seven Southern California counties, as well as transplant centers and patients in need across the country. In 2019 our not-for-profit organization recovered a record number of 557 organ donors that resulted in the transplant of 1,619 organs, doubling the number of organ collections we were performing in 2000. We also helped more than 200,000 people with tissue grafts while sight-saving corneas transplanted increased a remarkable 25% from the prior year to 1,616.

And then the pandemic hit.

Recognizing the lifesaving and essential purpose of donation and transplantation, in March we modified many parts of our practices to ensure the health and safety of recipients, family members and healthcare staff so as to allow the “gift of life” to continue uninterrupted. These included testing all potential organ donors for the virus, evaluating the travel history of all potential donors to identify those who may be at higher risk of exposure and instituting a number of appropriate precautions at OneLegacy itself.

Central among our actions is working with transplant centers and donor hospitals to free up ICU beds, ventilators and staff for COVID-19 patients, all of which normally support organ donors. Toward this end, OneLegacy made arrangements to transport organ donors to our Redlands Recovery Center, transfer donors to less-impacted facilities, and work with hospitals to recover organs more rapidly than usual.

By following these precautions and taking these actions, we have been able to continue our lifesaving mission and our ongoing stewardship of the gift of donation, allowing the wishes of donors and their families to be fulfilled. In fact, we are currently on pace for a significant increase in organ donations over last year’s record-setting numbers. To donor hospitals and staff, donors and their families, recipients, and transplant colleagues, we owe a world of gratitude for their continued caring about our community and our world. Americans rally together in times of crisis, and the same generosity and caring that we see from organ donors will help us successfully confront the challenges posed by COVID-19.

But that is not the only challenge that we as a nation or OneLegacy as an organization face.

Like the rest of America, we watched in horror and saddened disbelief at the killing of George Floyd – an act which stained our country and every one of our lives. That chilling atrocity was but the latest in a too-long history of racism and prejudice in our country. We must all do all that we can to end this suffering and heal these wounds. This is particularly personal to all of us in the healthcare field, for we know that inequities and disparities continue exist when it comes to both access to and delivery of care.

At OneLegacy, we take this call personally as our service area includes the most diverse community in the nation, comprised of 69% Hispanic, Asian and Black, as compared to 31% white. We are also a region that boasts 185 distinct languages and cultures. Considering that chronic disease and organ failure disproportionately affect people of color, it is incumbent upon us to lead the effort in education so as to address health disparities and encourage communities of color to seek appropriate healthcare; to say “YES” to organ, eye and tissue donation; and to get listed for transplants, whenever necessary.

Health disparities are the result of many things, including issues of trust in the medical system, traditional beliefs around death and dying, and the presumption that the organ transplant system discriminates. While the data shows that organs go to those in greatest need regardless of race, the fact remains that social and healthcare barriers still exist that prevent people from being offered the opportunity of choosing to receive a transplant. This must end.

In response, OneLegacy announced in June an expansion of our programs serving communities of color, aimed at addressing the disparities that currently exist in organ donation and transplantation. Our renewed effort include a virtual “Connect the Dots” Town Hall series featuring hosts and guests of diverse backgrounds, panel discussions about organ donation and transplantation among communities of color, social media outreach to share facts and figures about healthcare access among diverse communities, and the sharing of personal stories from local donor families and OneLegacy Ambassadors with communities and organizations across the counties we serve.

We know with certainty that the opportunity to donate and to receive a lifesaving transplant knows no color or sexual orientation and carries with it no national, ethnic or religious boundaries. And we know too, with equal certainty and sustained optimism, that no pandemic can deter good people from continuing to care about our community and our world through their desire to donate life; either upon their passing or, as a living donor, to a friend, family member, or even a complete stranger.

Despite the fact that a growing number of people are saying “YES” to donation, the need for transplants outpaces potential donors. Currently, there are more than 110,000 Americans waiting to receive a lifesaving heart, liver, lung, liver and/or pancreas and tragically 22 American die needlessly each day while waiting for a second chance at life. These realities drive us to help every Southern Californian who choose to do so register at the DMV or at donatelifecalifornia.org to be a donor and to explore the option to be a living donor. Please join us in that effort.

Tom Mone is chief executive officer of OneLegacy. Learn more by visiting onelegacy.org.

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