Without a new kidney, says 21-year-old Guevara who was on a long list of people awaiting organ transplants, she would surely have died.
“I was lucky,” says Guevara. “A stranger gave me a healthy life and for that I will forever will be grateful.”
Today, Guevara’s story is commonplace among Hispanics in America where more than 20,000 Latinos are currently awaiting an organ transplant.
They are people like Carlos Aguilar, 20, of Hillsboro, Oregon, who has been on dialysis for several years—but who recently learned that he will receive a kidney transplant next month.
Officials, though, say Latinos are among the 18 Americans of all ethnicities that die each day—more than 6,000 annually—because of the shortage of qualified matches.
It is a crisis, they say, caused by misconceptions and cultural taboos.
Many Hispanics who are Roman Catholics wrongly believe the church opposes organ donations, even though several popes have hailed them as an act of love. Other Latinos hold on to the mistaken belief that organ donation prevents grieving families from having an open-casket funeral.
In greater Los Angeles alone, nearly half the people awaiting organ transplants are Hispanic, according to the nonprofit OneLegacy, an organ and tissue recovery organization.
Their wait is often made even longer than usual, according to officials, because of the difficulty in finding a suitable donor since it is more likely for those needing an organ to find matches within their own genetic background.
“Organs cross cultures all the time, but the likelihood is that you would be a better match if you are the same race (and ethnicity),” says Karen Werstein of Donate Life Northwest.
Of course, the most famous Hispanic to have undergone a transplant is comedian George Lopez, who became a kidney recipient in 2005 to correct lifelong kidney problems.
His transplant match was made all the easier, though, because his then wife Ann became his donor.
Carlos Aguilar was not as lucky.
Four of his friends volunteered to be donors, but they were all rejected because they were poor matches.
Aguilar went on the organ donor list expecting a long wait only to be surprised when a Peruvian woman who works with his mother offered to be his kidney donor—and was found to be a perfect match.
“I was shocked,” he says. “I just thought she was going to get rejected like everybody else. I guess after all that time of days going by when you’re not getting a call saying ‘we found a donor,’ I was not expecting anything.”
For others waiting donor suitable donors, officials say there may be encouraging signs.
According to OneLegacy, the number of Latino families agreeing to donate organs at the death of a relative in a hospital increased 75 percent last year—a record number and a dramatic hike from 40-60 percent a decade ago.
OneLegacy is also among groups across the country urging Hispanics to donate organs for transplant by checking “yes” when they renew their driver’s licenses. Anyone wishing to donate their organs can also sign up online at www.donateLIFEcalifornia.org or www.doneVIDAcalifornia.org.
Meanwhile, professional soccer star Andy Najar of DC United recently taped a commercial to air in October promoting organ donation awareness—as part of the “Toma Un Minuto, Salva Una Vida” campaign.
“Yes, I’m signed up as an organ donor,” says Najar. “God has blessed my life with so much. If this is how he wishes me to give back, so be it.”