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Nat'l Minority Donor Awareness Month: Minorities are 63 percent of waiting list
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times

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ITASCA, Ill. ( August 12, 2015 ) Of the more than 5,300 people on the waiting list for an organ transplant in the state of Illinois, 63 percent are minorities. Throughout the month of August, during which the urgent need for minority organ and tissue donors is observed, Gift of Hope shares a story that demonstrates how fragile life is and the consequences that our loved ones suffer due to the lack of action taken in a timely manner to help save lives.

Anselmo Ruiz is a go-getter who began his career as a dishwasher and who rose up the ranks to become a famous chef and obtain the much coveted FiveStar distinction through perseverance and a strong desire to succeed. However, his success story also includes many highs and lows; his health has been compromised for years due to the need for organ transplants, a need he continues to have today.

"When I was 19, I never went to the doctor because I never got sick," Ruiz said. "When the doctor told me I had diabetes the first thing I thought of was death because my uncle was killed by the disease. I started taking medication, but it did not work. That's when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I began injecting insulin," commented Ruiz.

Every year efforts are carried out to educate and raise awareness in the Latino and minority communities to generate a culture of organ and tissue donation. Despite this, the ratio among various racial and ethnic groups who register to save the lives of those who need it most is disproportionately low compared to the number of Caucasian organ donors.

Ruiz endured his diabetes for 20 years until at 38-years-old, he experienced neuropathy as a result of his disease. Diabetic neuropathy damages the nervous system and decreases blood flow. Slowly Ruiz began losing feeling in his legs until one day he could no longer walk. His doctors told him he needed to be placed on the waiting list for a pancreas transplant at the University of Illinois hospital. He received a transplant a few months later, but unfortunately by then he learned that his kidneys were failing and that he needed to start dialysis.

"Once a patient begins dialysis it is difficult to maintain a transplant. Now his kidney functions, but he needs another pancreas transplant," said Dr. Jose Oberholzer, Transplant Surgeon at the University of Illinois Hospital. Ruiz had no choice but to begin taking insulin injections again. He received another pancreas transplant, which his body rejected. In a case like his, which is uncommon, another pancreas transplant is not recommended; rather the transplantation of islets or pancreas cells is preferred so that his body can begin producing insulin again. This process is considered successful though it is still in the testing phase at the University of Illinois and awaiting approval," concluded Dr. Oberholzer.

Almost half of people with diabetes suffer from nerve damage. Usually in the case of type 1 diabetes, when the pancreas no longer produces insulin, a pancreas and kidney transplant must occur at the same time. Unfortunately that was not the case for Ruiz. He only placed himself on the pancreas transplant waiting list and not the kidney list because his kidneys were working well at the time.

Raiza Mendoza, Manager of Hispanic Affairs for Gift of Hope assures that "A donor can help improve the quality of life of many people and give the most precious gift, life itself. Latinos do not go to the doctor until they are very sick. Then we try to relieve the pain with home remedies."

"If we prevent diseases such as diabetes by regularly going to the doctor and taking care of our bodies with a balanced diet and exercise, it will help avoid many of the diseases that are more prevalent in the Latino community," Mendoza concluded.

This month, as we continue to raise awareness about the urgent need for organ and tissue donation among minorities, Gift of Hope invites the Hispanic community to continue increasing the number of entries in the state registry and to show active solidarity with those waiting for transplants. "This is an essential part of Gift of Hope's mission, as it is in the Latino culture to help those who need it. Talk to your family and tell them you want to save lives! It's time to share our light and leave a legacy because together we can make a big difference in the lives of others," expressed Mendoza.

About Gift of Hope

Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network is a nonprofit organization that coordinates donation of organs and tissues with 180 hospitals in Illinois and northeast Indiana. Since its inception in 1987, Gift of Hope has coordinated donations that have saved the lives of more than 20,000 organ transplant beneficiaries, and bettering the lives of hundreds of thousands of recipients of tissue transplants. For more information: or call: 877-577-3747 .

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