MILWAUKEE — Versiti is teaming up with America's Black Holocaust Museum to host a virtual art gallery raising awareness about the need for African-American organ and tissue donors. "Lifeline: The Ultimate Bond" features art from local African-American artists as well as the stories of recipients and those still on the transplant waitlist.
Kobena-Marcus J. Collins is one of the people featured in the exhibit. During a 2019 visit to the dentist, he found out his blood pressure was high. When he went to the doctor with his blood pressure as a concern, he also found out that he would be needing a kidney transplant.
"85% of my kidneys were dead. It turns out that I had two conditions, one that is genetic and one that is a result of high blood pressure for a prolonged amount of time," Collins said.
For the last two years, Collins has been doing dialysis three days a week for nearly four hours at a time. And, he could still have years lefts on the transplant waitlist.
"The average is 3-5 years. I have to live with the idea that it may be another 3-5 years before I get one," he said.
According to the US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, on average African-Americans wait about one-and-a-half years longer for a kidney transplant than their white counterparts.
And according to the Office of Minority Health, while 28.7% of people waiting for organ donors are African-American, they made up just 12.5% of the donors in 2019.
"The closer genetically you can be to your donor, the better chance of that organ taking in your body," said two-time kidney transplant recipient Richard Lewis.
Lewis' story is also featured in the exhibit. He said his first transplant came in 2004 from a living donor, his sister. But by 2013 that kidney had failed and he had to start dialysis.
In 2017, Lewis said his barber called him and said he knew a woman whose son was about to die and she wanted to donate his organs.
"She called me about an hour later and said 'my son just passed, I'd like you to have his kidney,'" Lewis recalled. "I said, 'ma'am I'm just amazed that you're able to talk to me after your son just died.' And she said, 'you don't understand, you're giving my son's life a purpose. I'd like for you to have it.'"
Lewis said there are a lot of myths about donation that keep others in the African-American community from signing up to be organ donors. He and his donor's mom are still connected, and do their part to raise awareness about organ donation.
"We go around to African-American churches and explain the whole process of organ donation from her perspective, as someone who made the decision to donate her son's organs, and from my perspective as a person who is a recipient," Lewis said.
That message is also shared in the "Lifeline" art exhibit.
"We see the impacts of health disparities at the bedside with families in grief and crisis," said Versiti's VP of Organ and Tissue Donation Colleen McCarthy. "We want to change that, we want to bring awareness, we want to increase trust in donation and we hope to do that through this wonderful art exhibit."
The virtual grand opening of the exhibit is Friday, April 30, and will also serve as an opportunity for people to learn more about the importance of organ donation. To attend, click here.