Home Science Health and Wellness Good for Harvest, Bad for Planting: Equitable Organ Transplant Access

Good for Harvest, Bad for Planting: Equitable Organ Transplant Access

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Dr. Vanessa Grubbs and Robert Phillips at their wedding in August 2005. Just a few months earlier, when his kidneys were failing, she gave him one of hers. Courtesy of Vanessa Grubbs

Difference in access for people of color when it comes to organ transplants for life threatening illnesses like kidney disease.

As we continue the healthcare debate, it’s critical that we consider the equitability of the healthcare system, and how healthcare services and essentials are accessible across the population that they serve. This particular article refers to the difference in access for people of color when it comes to organ donation and transplants for life threatening illnesses like kidney disease.

Dr. Vanessa Grubbs catalogs her experience in meeting her now Husband who was suffering from kidney disease, and the journey he was on to get to the top of the list for transplant.

Here’s what you need to know about inequality in organ transplant access:

  • Their relationship brought Grubbs face to face with the dilemmas of kidney transplantation — and the racial biases she found to be embedded in the way donated kidneys are allocated. 
  • Her candid new memoir, Hundreds of Interlaced Fingers: A Kidney Doctor’s Search for the Perfect Match, explores her personal story and some troubling statistics. Roughly 1 in 3 of the candidates awaiting kidney transplants are African American, Grubbs learned, but they receive only about 1 in 5 of all donated kidneys. White people account for about a third of the candidates awaiting kidney transplants, but they receive every other donated kidney. 
  • Grubbs writes of accompanying Phillips in 2004 to meet with members of the transplantation team — including a doctor, a nurse and a financial counselor — for a routine evaluation and update. 
  • published a piece in a health policy magazine — Health Affairs — [detailing the inequities in transplantation]. It was called “Good for Harvest, Bad for Planting.” 

    “I honestly thought that people would read this piece from a doctor being surprised at how the system was set up, and that they would take a look at it and be reflective and think about what they might be able to do to make the system at least seem more equitable to people on the outside.” -Dr. Grubbs

  • Many doctors can acknowledge that there are race disparities in health care, that people of color do worse across many areas than white people. -Dr. Grubbs
  • the unfortunate thing that we tend to do is, when we are associated with a bad thing, we spend our time trying to disassociate ourselves from that bad thing, rather than spending our energy in acknowledging that this is a bad thing and we should all work together to try to make it better. 
  • Why is it that African Americans are, as you put it, “good for harvest but not for planting? 
  • You can’t get to even the evaluation unless a nephrologist refers you, and you have health insurance that will pay for the evaluation. 

Learn more @ NPR

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