Six students, recently completing their first year at Meharry, spent the summer shadowing the donor agency, gaining insights into the intricate steps involved in making transplants possible.
Teresa Belledent, a medical student, shared her enthusiasm for transplants, emphasizing the opportunity to offer a second chance at life through organ donation. The students’ roles include identifying potential donors, discussing donation with grieving families, retrieving organs, and facilitating matches for recipients, often spanning hundreds of miles.
Dr. Marty Sellers, the organ agency’s surgeon, imparts hands-on training to students in the operating room. Despite record numbers of transplants in recent years, many still succumb to the lack of available organs, highlighting the urgent need for organ donation diversification. Inequities in organ transplantation remain a pressing concern, particularly in communities of color.
Teresa Belledent’s experiences in Haiti, where the scarcity of transplant surgeons limits access to lifesaving procedures, underscore the importance of these efforts. Black Americans face a threefold higher risk of kidney failure compared to white individuals, yet disparities persist in access to transplant lists and receiving organs from living donors.
To bridge this gap, initiatives like Meharry’s aim to bolster diversity among donors, increasing the chances of finding suitable matches for people of color. Jill Grandas of Tennessee Donor Services underscores the need to close the organ donation gap, while Dr. James Hildreth, from Meharry Medical College, emphasizes the multifaceted nature of the problem. The shortage of African-American and minority transplant surgeons and nephrologists hinders progress.
Exposing students to these critical issues forms a key aspect of the program. As part of their education, students engage with donor families, gaining insights into their motivations for choosing organ donation. Their most memorable moments often revolve around interactions with grieving families, who generously share their donation experiences.