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Living organ donors honoured at milestone event

INSPIRATIONAL: The men and women celebrated at the first-ever Because of You event held in London (photo: Adedayo Olaseinde)

IN THE first event of its kind, black living donors, people who have donated their organs to family members and others, were celebrated with a public thank you last week.

Hundreds gathered at the Holiday Inn in Bloomsbury, London for a special appreciation lunch called Because of You.

The donors, and the family members they had given their organs to, shared emotional moments, stories about their journey and how the process had changed their lives.

Dela Idowu, founder and director of the charity Gift of Living Donation (GOLD), which organised the event, said she believed visible and relatable black living donors would help dispel the fear that often surrounds organ donation in the community. She told The Voice: “The majority of black people don’t know of anyone who is a living donor so they often focus on the negative aspects of organ donation.

CELEBRATION: GOLD founder and Because of You organiser Dela Idowu, Mayoress of Camden Maryam Emaldoust, who attended on the night, and Dela’s brother Tayo Idowu, who has received a kidney transplant

“They fear something could go wrong with the transplant operation or something terrible could happen. It was therefore important for us to showcase some of the hundreds of black men and women who have overcome fear to successfully donate a kidney to a loved one.”

In recent years several national campaigns have been launched to tackle the lack of black blood and organ donors.

Although more people from African Caribbean backgrounds are giving blood and donating their organs after they have died, there’s still an urgent shortage of donors to help patients who need lifesaving or life-enhancing blood transfusions and organ transplants.

There are currently 632 black people waiting for a transplant, with the vast majority of those in need of a kidney, according to figures from NHS Blood and Transplant.

Sadly, a number of patients die while waiting for a transplant.

Polly Todd with brother Richard whom she donated a kidney to (photo: AMC Media)

The severe shortage of organ donors means that black people wait on average more than six months longer for a kidney transplant than people from white backgrounds. Idowu told The Voice: “The event marked an important and historic day for the black community as it recognised and celebrated over 150 living donors and their recipients.

For the first time black living donors across the UK gathered together. It was an opportunity for us to celebrate the selfless acts of kindness of these extraordinary people and to hear their inspirational stories.

“Too often people in our community use their culture or religion as excuses to mask their fear. As a result of their fear hundreds of black patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) who could have their lives transformed by a live donor transplant are struggling daily with dialysis.”

She continued: “The group of compassionate and passionate living donors that were honoured at Because of You are very keen to spread their powerful message of living donation to the wider community. They believe their concerted and coordinated efforts of sharing their stories can be the catalyst for change and hopefully see more black people coming forward.

“We at GOLD know that there is still a long way to go in changing the attitudes we have towards organ donation. However, this special group of people are on a mission to inspire others to become living donors and give those waiting for a transplant some hope. This could be a game-changing moment for living donation.”

Because of You will become a bi-annual ceremony which acknowledges the impact that living kidney donors are making in the lives of their family and community. Among those who attended last week’s event was Shaun Wallace of ITV show The Chase, who said he was “humbled by the donor stories and delighted to lend support to such an important and laudable occasion”.

Distinguished poet Linton Kwesi Johnson said it was “a joy and privilege to perform at the event”.

Kirit Mistry, co-chair of the National Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Transplant Alliance (NBTA), acknowledged the success of the event and its significance in giving living donors a platform to voice the positive life-altering benefits that a kidney transplant brings.

PICTURED: Orin Lewis, co-founder of the Afro-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust

Orin Lewis, co-founder of the Afro-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust who gave an address at the event, said he had heard so many encouraging stories from the donors and their recipients and that it was now time for organisations to work together to bring these voices to a wider audience and encourage more people from the black community to come forward as donors.

Lewis said: “This pivotal event was an important milestone for the black community, because it was the first time so many black living donors and their recipients had gathered together in one room. It is another example that shows that the black community are more united than disunited and are as capable as any other racial group when it comes to saving lives.

“Every recipient and donor had a positive story to tell, but just needed an audience and platform. Now they have both.

“And the more other black people hear, read, see and feel their life-changing stories, the more other people will be inspired and motivated to dispel the fake news and disinformation and instead register as organ donors to save lives. Black lives matter too.”

Among the people who shared their stories on the night was Polly Todd, who donated a kidney to her brother Richard in 2011.

At the age of 18, Richard was told that his kidneys would always have to be carefully monitored, because they had been damaged by an infection.

Speaking about her donation journey, Todd said: “A few years before Richard needed a kidney, we were talking, and I said to him that if my kidneys were in good condition, then I would be happy to donate one to him if the need were to arise. For me, it didn’t feel like a huge ask, it was my decision and it felt like a natural and obvious solution. I am happy that I made the decision to donate one of my kidneys in order to give my brother a better quality of life for himself and his family. ”

For more information, visit or email tayo1@giftofliving

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