In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange County is raising awareness about the need for registered organ donors in the Latino community. Similar to the under-representation of Latinos in medicinal and clinical trials, they are underrepresented in organ donation as well.

Within the Latino community specifically, there is a significant gap between the number of Latino organ donors and the number of Latinos in need of lifesaving organ transplants. Health experts say the need for organ donors in the Latino community is crucial.

In 2020, the number of organ transplants performed on Latinos was about 30% of the number of Latinos currently waiting for a transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Compared to those currently waiting for a transplant, whites were the recipients of 48.8% of transplants.

There are many myths associated with organ donation. For example, “some believe that their organs will be taken from them without consent,” according to Salud America! In either case, written consent must be given by the donor, whether alive or deceased. 

organ donor
Efren Canizalez Carranza came in for his annual check-up after a kidney transplant. Photo courtesy of Providence St. Joseph Hospital.

A deceased donor who is not listed on the donor registry is offered the opportunity to have their legal authorized representative approve the donation once the person has been declared legally and clinically dead.

Also, myths regarding donations continue to be major barriers preventing many Latinos from becoming registered donors. One of the myths is that organ donors are less likely to be saved if they are dying. This simply is not true, according to Donate Life America. Your life will always come first. In addition to myths, religion can also play a role in one’s likelihood of becoming an organ donor. All major religions accept organ donation as a final act of generosity.

Natasha Campos, lead transplant coordinator at the kidney transplant center in Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Los Angeles and in Bakersfield, told CALÓ NEWS that another myth often heard from patients is that they are going to let the donor pass away while they give the other person the organ, which does not happen.

Natasha campos
Natasha Campos, 47, Toluca Lake, CA, She/Her, Cuban.

Natasha Campos, Lead Transplant Coordinator, Kidney Transplant Center, Providence St. Joseph Hospital. -Photo courtesy of Providence St. Joseph Hospital.

“Also, a lot of patients think that if they have problems medically, for example, if they have hypertension or diabetes, their children are going to get it,” Campos said. Another example that she shared is that patients have the mindset that they are here to take care of their children and that their children shouldn’t be taking care of them. “Patients don’t want to take an organ from their children,” Campos said.

“Although the Latino population in the U.S. has risen to a record high of 18.9%, Latinos comprised just 14.6% of organ donors in 2020,” according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.

Organ recipient Efren Canizalez Carranza

CALÓ NEWS spoke with 49-year-old Efren Canizalez Carranza, who celebrated last month, on September 15, his one-year anniversary since his kidney organ transplant surgery at Providence St. Joseph Hospital.

On September 16, 2022, Carranza was in Mexico celebrating Mexican Independence Day with his family when he got a call that would change his life – a call that he’d been waiting for five years.

“When I received that call from Dr. Yasir Qazi, I felt like my opportunity at life had returned,” Carranza said.

Dr. Yasir Qazi, a transplant nephrologist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital, was calling Efren to let him know that he had been identified as a match for a newly identified kidney. As a result, time was of the essence.

Efren immediately booked the next flight back from Hermosillo Airport, but a travel snafu left him stranded in Phoenix, missing his connection home. After many complications, he was positive that he wouldn’t be back in time for the organ and that it’d be offered to the next candidate. 

When Dr. Qazi heard he was stuck, he made some calls to the airline to get him on the next flight back to LA. Six hours later, Efren was at the hospital getting prepped for surgery. “When I got to the hospital everything was ready for me to go into surgery. My family was there waiting for me too,” Carranza said. “Thank god, thank god that I made it in time.”

Carranza said that this kidney transplant has changed his life for the better. Five years ago he earned a living as truck driver, but since he got sick, he had to stop working. “I spent many years in dialysis, stuck to a machine that would take four hours to get things done. I didn’t like it, I would always leave with a headache and high blood pressure,” Carranza said.

A year after surgery

One year after receiving his new kidney, Carranza urges others in the Latino community to register as organ donors. “It’s crucial that more Latinos become organ donors. I know it can be scary and that many of us are scared to donate, but you can truly change someone’s life forever. That’s why it’s important to become an organ donor,” Carranza said. As of now, Carranza is still taking things slowly and only helps with at-home chores as he is still recovering from surgery.

With more than 100,000 people on the transplant waiting list, over 20,000 of them live in California, and 44% of the Californians waiting are Latinos, according to the Donate Life California Donor Registry. Unfortunately, an average of 18 patients die every day while waiting for a transplant, simply because the organ they need does not become available in time.

Experts also say that it’s important for Latinos and other minorities to be organ donors, as they are three times more likely than Caucasians to suffer from renal failure and diabetes. Currently, 8,173 Latinos in California are waiting for kidney transplants, according to the Donate Life California Donor Registry. The lack of organs means longer transplant waiting periods, years on dialysis and sometimes death for these patients.

Irina Ngo, nurse supervisor at the kidney transplant center at Providence St. Joseph Hospital, said that the majority of their patients are Latinos. “About 70% of our patients are Latinos. So, It’s really important to encourage organ donations in minority communities so that patients can get transplants faster and are not doing dialysis for years and years,” Ngo said.

Irina Ngo
Irina Julissa Ngo, 47, Riverside, CA, She/Her/Hers, Peruvian

Irina Ngo, Nurse Supervisor, Kidney Transplant Center, – Providence St. Joseph Hospital. -Photo courtesy of Providence St. Joseph Hospital.

One of the ways that the Latino community and other communities can get educated about organ donations is by visiting the dialysis centers and talking to the social workers there. “At the dialysis center, you can talk to the nurses and patients and they can answer all the questions that organ donors may possibly have,” Ngo said.

Donating an organ can not only extend a patient’s life but also save a person’s life.

“Their lives change completely. For dialysis patients, once they get a kidney transplant, they will no longer be attached to a machine three days a week, four hours a day. Others may not be attached to the machine every night,” Campos said. “In addition, organ recipients are able to travel, work and do things they couldn’t do before because they had to be strapped down to a machine.”

According to the Donate Life California Donor Registry“Knowing that you have the power to give someone else a chance to live a healthy, productive life is the greatest gift of all.” To register as an organ donor, click here.

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a staff multimedia journalist, who focuses on...