68% of patients waiting for organ transplants in New Mexico are people of color. Nationally,
55 percent of those waiting for organ transplants are minorities.

24% of those on the New Mexico waiting list for kidney transplants are Native Americans, who make up just 9.4 percent of the state’s overall population.

We really want to encourage more of our minority populations to be willing to be registered as donors to help people within their own ethnicity.—Maria Sanders, director of hospital and community services at New Mexico Donor Services in Albuquerque

A hefty majority of New Mexicans waiting for organ transplants are nonwhite, according to data compiled by the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network. Maria Sanders, who does community outreach at New Mexico Donor Services, says that's because New Mexico's minority population has higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which can lead to kidney failure.

People with kidney failure generally have two options: undergoing painful dialysis treatments three or four times a week, or signing up for kidney transplants.

"If they receive a kidney transplant, they don't have to be hooked up to a machine," Sanders tells SFR.

While non-Latino whites make up 40 percent of the state, they represent just 32 percent of those waiting for organ transplants. Native Americans make up nearly a quarter of New Mexicans waiting for kidney transplants, but represent less than 10 percent of the state's population.

The biggest key to successful organ transplants is matching blood types, Sanders says. But the next most important factor is matching tissue types, or ethnicities. If a white person were to donate a kidney to a Native person, for example, it could still work, but Sanders says there may be an increased chance that the recipient's body would reject the organ.

"It also might mean that person would have to take higher doses of medication so their body won't reject it," Sanders says.

Sanders encourages more minorities to be organ donors, something she reiterated during National Minority Donor Awareness Day on Aug. 1.

“Because we have a lower number of minorities donating, people of minority backgrounds aren’t getting optimal results,” she says.