San Ildefonso Pueblo Member Encourages American Indians to Become Organ Donors

San Ildefonso Pueblo Member Encourages American Indians to Become Organ Donors


Renee Roybal, a San Ildefonso Pueblo member, advocates for American Indians to become organ donors. The 52-year-old mother of two daughters realized the need for more Native donors while waiting for a heart transplant match in 2002, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Roybal suffered from cardiomyopathy, a rare viral infection that caused her heart to beat at triple the normal rate.

One evening in 1999 while enjoying a Chinese meal with her family, Roybal suddenly collapsed. Medication had temporarily kept her symptoms at bay. But after that near fatal dinner, a doctor put her on a defibrillator that kept her heart pumping for three years.

In March 2002, the time came for her to be evaluated for a heart transplant. She was airlifted from her Santa Fe, New Mexico home to the University of California, Los Angeles hospital. No New Mexico facilities can perform such an operation and only two hospitals in the state can perform surgery for kidney transplants.

In October, after spending six months away from her family, Roybal received news that they found her a heart from an 11-year-old girl in Los Angeles.

Roybal's long wait for a heart transplant belies a bigger problem in Indian Country—American Indians generally show reluctance to donating organs, Maria Sanders, New Mexico Donor Services community services director, told the Santa Fe New Mexican. Ironically, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure increase the community's need for organ transplants. Approximately a quarter of people in need of a kidney transplant, the most commonly transplanted organ, are American Indian. As of August 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 1,057 American Indians were on the waiting list for organs in the United States.

And when it comes to transplanting organs, the risk is high. A less perfect match in tissue drives the probability of the body rejecting the organ.

"That gap is important," Sanders told the Santa Fe New Mexican. "One of the things that is done in addition to matching blood type is matching tissue. We're looking at the genetic makeup of donor vs. recipient."

Luckily for Roybal, her body has not rejected her heart since she received the transplant nearly a decade ago.

Roybal's focus has since turned to raising awareness of the need for American Indian organ donors. She explained the taboo surrounding organ donation to the Santa Fe New Mexican. The spirituality of many American Indian communities and significance placed on the body being "whole" upon death deters them from being organ donors.

Since her transplant, Roybal has been on a crusade to raise awareness of heart diseases and organ donation to New Mexico and its pueblos.

"I felt that being Native American, they don't really sign up to be donors. ...These are giving people. We're always opening our doors for people to come in. They should really look into giving themselves, also—giving life to another person, giving them a chance to live on," Roybal told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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vinden's picture
Submitted by vinden on
IS YOU CRAZY?..This flies in the face of all that is traditional in a lot of Native traditions,...the bodies of enemy warriors were ritually mutilated,because in the belief of the after-life,an enemy warrior could not walk or mount a horse,if he was missing a leg/arm..well anyway,everyone knows about the mother and grandmother would turn away from a camera,to this day,to avoid their soul from being stolen or affected,strong traditions!! maybe even archaic superstition,not anymore than being hung up on a cross,and 3 days later,displaying the wounds,,(Jesus)to his the injuries suffered in life,are carried over to the afterlife..'sides if organ donorship does by some miracle increase among Natives..there is strong implication in the article,like car parts,"Ford parts,only fit fords"so "Indian parts"fit only Indians.I'm sure the life-giving heart she so specially needed were not labelled like a carpart.."Indian" fits only Indians.Sorry,but my tradition demands that I appear before the creator,whole an'not have my body-parts,scattered all over the universe,to arrive later..I don' mean no disrespect towards anyone that is waiting for an organ transplant,my nephew and two of my cousins are on a waiting list.Maybe everyone should work on bringing the cost of Organ-transplants,and emphasise(sic) healthy lifestyles,to help alleviate heart/lung/liver/kidney disease..and decrease the need for organ transplants..I'm not a health care professional,nor an doctor,but I'm no stranger to the rain either..

beaver's picture
Submitted by beaver on
Everyone needs to sign up donate organs to help our brothers and sisters! Pay no attention to the superstitious fool above.