Medical experts will tell you finding a life-saving donor does not necessarily depend on finding someone of the same race or ethnic group.
But they'll also tell you it can help in finding the best match.
We introduce you to a young man at the Texas Medical Center who wanted to share that message in his search for the gift that could save his life.
Tyler Nelson has spent each of his 16 years battling cystic fibrosis. Now, waiting for a life-saving lung and liver transplant at Texas Children’s Hospital, Tyler and his family are spreading the word about the intricacies of organ donation that could improve his odds for survival.
"Really I just take it a day at a time,” he told us from the Ronald McDonald House in the Texas Medical Center, where he is staying with his mom, older brother, and younger sister. “I know things are going to get better.”
Organ donations and finding the best match for a recipient do not depend on race. Caucasian donors regularly match African American recipients, for example, and vice versa. It is a highly complex scientific process that determines the best tissue match, regardless of ethnicity. But African American donors historically agree to be organ donors at a rate far less than the percentage of need.
The following is from The Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
“The rate of organ donation in minority communities does not keep pace with the number needing transplants. Although minorities donate in proportion to their share of the population, their need for transplants is much greater. African Americans, for example, are about 13 percent of the population, about 12 percent of donors, and about 23 percent of the kidney waiting list.
Successful transplantation is often enhanced by matching of organs between members of the same racial and ethnic group. Generally, people are genetically more similar to people of their own ethnicity or race than to people of other races. Therefore, matches are more likely and more timely when donors and potential recipients are members of the same ethnic background.
"That makes it harder for me because of my size, and my race, and my age,” said Tyler.
“The African American and Latin community, we believe that the numbers in those communities are very low. And they could stand to be improved,” said Tyler’s mom Cynthia Nevels. “We believe that would help Tyler.”
So as they wait for Tyler's turn, his family tries to educate as many people as they can while Tyler shares is beyond-his-years positive attitude.
"God is going to bless me with a lung and liver pretty soon,” said Tyler. “And as long as I continue to pray and have support I know I'll be good.”
His gift of life could come from anyone of any race. But he hopes with more willing donors of every ethnicity, his odds for that gift will improve.
"We have hope. And we're grateful,” added his mom.