July 24, 2014 at 1:00 am

Event encourages people to register on state donor list

The MOTTEP Life Walk/Run, shown in 2012, raises awareness and money for organ donation. This year's event is Saturday on Belle Isle. (Betsy Miner-Swartz)

Organ donation can be a funny thing. That’s funny as in odd, mostly, but sometimes funny as in you gotta be kidding me.

People will see a big banner at an event that says “Organ Donation,” for instance, and they’ll ask, “Would you take a piano?”

You can’t make this stuff up. Or anyway, you don’t need to, because people will even call the Gift of Life with the same sort of question — “Can you use an old Yamaha? It only has a few missing keys.”

Again: You gotta be kidney me. But here’s something else surprising, from the odd and unfortunate category:

Minorities are less likely than whites to register as organ donors, less likely to have family members consent to the process on their behalf, and less likely to move from a waiting list to an operating table.

That third fact is related to the first two.

There are also some other reasons why minorities make up 56 percent of the waiting lists nationally but undergo only 34 percent of the organ transplants. They have higher rates of organ-destroying diseases, for instance, and less access historically to good health care.

But according to Remonia Chapman, who delves deeply into aftermarket lungs and hearts and such, the largest factor is a simple failure to register.

That’s a key reasonwhy she and some 1,500 other people are expected on Belle Isle on Saturday morning for the 17th annual MOTTEP Life Walk/Run. But people of every flavor are always on hand for the exercise and related hoopla.

Basically, anyone with organs will fit right in.

Walk/Run to help

What’s formally known as the Gift of Life MOTTEP Foundation’s walk/run raises money and attention for the cause, and it’s not too late to step in. Just show up at the Belle Isle Casino with $25 if you’re walking 5 kilometers, or $30 if you’d rather run a 5K or 10K.

Registration begins at 7:30 a.m., with the run at 8:30 and the walk at 9.

The Detroit News is a sponsor, and among the people you’ll see there is assistant managing editor Felecia Henderson, one of four honorary chairs. Her late husband, Angelo — radio host, journalist and minister — will be saluted at the event.

Angelo Henderson was a determined advocate for the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, known to its admirers as MOTTEP, which has “made significant progress,” says Chapman, the program director. Across a dozen or so years, the organ donation rate among minorities in Wayne County has nearly doubled to 20 percent.

That’s still less than half of what’s needed, but as the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services points out, statistics hide the real point.

Its records show that an average of 79 people received an organ transplant every day in 2013 — and 18 people died for lack of a donor.

Get on the donor list

It’s not difficult to put yourself on the donor list.

Call Gift of Life, Michigan’s only federally designated non-profit organ procurement organization, at (800) 482-4881. Drop by a Secretary of State office. Or, let your keyboard do the walking to michigan.gov/sos or giftoflifemichigan.org.

Most people who enroll will never become donors. To qualify, says Gift of Life’s Betsy Miner-Swartz, you need to die in a hospital, on life support, with your brain gone but your other organs functional.

It’s not an appealing image, which is one reason people don’t sign up. Other factors, Chapman says, include religious constraints, language and cultural barriers, mistrust of the health care system, a historic lack of access to it, and a failure to connect the dots.

“People know about the high rates of diabetes and hypertension,” she says. “But they’re not thinking about the marriage of those particular diseases and end-stage organ failure.”

In Wayne County, Chapman says, people from all minority groups tend to enroll at the same low rates. Transplant success, however, particularly with kidneys, improves when a match is found within a race.

“We need to do better,” she says. “We need to save lives.”

LIFE Walk isn’t the cure-all, but it’s a nice first step.

(313) 222-1874

Henderson (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)