According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) there are over 125,000 people waiting for an organ transplant in the United States. Of these, there are 4000 people waiting for a heart transplant. In the state of Florida, over 5,600 people are awaiting an organ transplant. 268 Floridians are waiting for a heart.
One of the biggest challenges in organ transplantation is matching patients of African American and ethnic decent to an organ donor. Since 1988, there have been over 13,000 Floridians who have died and donated their organs to patients. Only 15% of these donors were African Americans. Currently, out of 5,600 people waiting for an organ in Florida, nearly 40% are African American. Due to this large gap, many African American patients waiting for an organ die on the transplant list. This is even more of an issue when it comes to heart transplants. Currently of the 269 Floridians waiting for a heart, 89 are African American.
This year, a new name was added to the list of African Americans who died waiting for a heart transplant, Leonard Larramore. Larramore was a local guy who made it from the streets of Jacksonville, to Raines High School, and to the stadiums of the NFL. Over the years he worked hard at his skill and athletic ability. However, he probably developed high blood pressure. Over time, this began to take a toll on his heart. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with a dilated cardiomyopathy (heart failure). Normally, a heart should pump out about 60% of the blood; Larramore was only at 10%. After trying medicines, he continued to decline. In October of 2016, he was given a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) at the Mayo Clinic. This heart pump helped extend his life and then give him the opportunity to be listed for a heart transplant. In the fall of 2017, his heart continued to fail despite the LVAD. He was admitted to the Mayo Clinic and placed on top of the heart transplant list. For over 200 days he waited in the hospital for a heart. Being a tall, large sized, African American male, everyone, including Mr. Larramore knew his match was going to be hard to find. His faith in God, positive attitude, and determined mindset helped pass each day. Throughout his journey, his wife Naishanda was a rock and staunch supporter by his side. As time passed, he heart and health continued to decline until his death on April 25, 2018.
A part of his legacy is to get everyone in the African American Community aware of heart failure, its causes, and increase number of African Americans as organ donors. Heart failure is when the main pump of the heart, the left ventricle, does not pump blood out of the heart. Normally, the heart function (ejection fraction) is 50-70%. Any ejection fraction lower than 50% is consider some stage of heart failure The common causes of heart failure include heart attack and heart disease, untreated high blood pressure, and possible heat valve abnormalities. In African Americans, like with Larramore, un-diagnosed and untreated high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart failure. Checking your blood pressure on regular basis, getting treated if over 140/80, is a way to prevent heart failure.
The prevention of heart failure is the key, as with Larramore, heart failure can progress to the point of needing a heart transplant. As mentioned, Jacksonville is fortunate to have a heart transplant center at Mayo Clinic. For patients, especially African Americans, many die awaiting a transplant. As a community, it is important that everyone take time to consider becoming an organ donor. Every organ donor can save up to eigh lives in Jacksonville and the State of Florida. African Americans are under represented as organ donors and more are always needed. Talk to your family, friends, churches, pastors, and co workers about the gift of life. For more information contact Donate Life Flordia visit at www.donatelifeflorida.org.
Ruple J Galani, MD FACC
Baptist Heart Specialists / President, Duval County Medical Society