Calling all pastors

BY FRANK DROUZAS Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — In order to raise awareness of the importance of organ donations, LifeLink® Foundation, Inc. and The Weekly Challenger will be holding a luncheon April 30 from 11:30a.m. – 1:00p.m. at the Historic Manhattan Casino at 642 22nd St. S. The event, which will take place atop Sylvia’s Queen of Soul Food Restaurant, has been planned specifically for spiritual leaders, said Brandi Ahonsi, public affairs coordinator at LifeLink® Foundation.

“Our hope is they will understand the importance of this message,” Ahonsi said, “and invite us into their sanctuary to share the importance of individuals signing up to be an organ and tissue donor, brainstorm other ideas to help us share this message or become an advocate for us and inform their congregation of gifts they can give even after death.”

Pastors Ad, healthHeadquartered in Tampa, LifeLink® is a nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization that serves 15 counties in Florida, the state of Georgia and the island of Puerto Rico. Organ recovery organizations are federally designated to serve certain areas throughout the county, Ahonsi explained.

“In 2014 we recovered organs from 190 donors and tissue from 288 individuals,” she attested.

One organ donor can save up to eight lives by donating their heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and small intestine, Ahonsi said adding that a single tissue donor can enhance more than 50 lives through their gifts of corneas to help restore sight, bones for reconstructive surgery, tendons and ligaments to help restore mobility, heart valves and skin.

“LifeLink® only recovers organs and tissue from deceased donors,” she affirmed. “Organ donation occurs in a hospital operating room only after two doctors declare their patient deceased. If anyone is interested in getting information about being a living donor, they would have to contact their nearest transplant center.”

Having been with LifeLink® for four years now, Ahonsi strives to educate the community about organ and tissue donation and encourage people to sign up on Florida’s donor registry at www.donatelifeflorida.org.

“During my time at LifeLink® I have been able to meet and form relationships with individuals whose life has been extended thanks to the generosity of an organ donor and the family members of individuals who were compassionate enough to donate their loved ones organs and tissue,” she said. “It has been an extremely humbling journey.”

She noted that as a part of LifeLink® Foundation outreach efforts, the organization partners with faith communities to share the importance of organ and tissue donation. Ahonsi believes the luncheon will provide a relaxed atmosphere in which to have this discussion and hopefully to build relationships with faith communities in St. Pete.

“Historically,” she said, “in the black community the church has been a cornerstone of our communities. Pastors are extremely influential in their communities and are sought for their advice and opinions on an array of topics on a regular basis. There are so many myths and fallacies surrounding the topic of organ and tissue donation that we feel it is of the utmost importance for us to engage faith leaders in a conversation about the topic and address any questions they may have.”

Currently 30 percent of individuals on the national transplant waiting list (in need of any type of organ transplant) are African Americans. The majority of these individuals are waiting on a kidney transplant as minorities are affected by diseases that could lead to kidney failure, namely diabetes and hypertension.

Of the more than 100,000 Americans in need of a kidney transplant, 34 percent are black. Last year, 6,168 individuals died while waiting for a transplant, 23.7 percent were of African American descent.

On average, blacks wait longer to receive a lifesaving organ transplant, which can lead to a decline in the health of other organs and sometimes death. Though it is not necessary that donors and recipients be of the same ethnic background, it oftentimes enhances the chances for a successful transplant.

“We encourage people to not only sign up to be organ donors, but also to discuss their decisions with their families,” finished Ahonsi who encourages any of our readers who are recipients of either organs or tissue or is a donor family member to consider volunteering with them to share their testimonies.

To ensure adequate space, please confirm with Brandi Ahonsi by April 28 at 800-262-5775 ext. 4490.

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

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