'More Asians need to donate organs'

When Shagufta Sharif was told by doctors that she had suffered kidney failure she thought her life had just ended.

The mother of two young children from Bradford would have to go on the organ transplant register, but in the meantime her only chance of survival was to undergo dialysis.

"I was so hurt and upset and kept asking myself why this had happened to me, what had I done wrong to be given such a fatal condition," says Shagufta.

"I was convinced that I was going to die so I started to write letters to my children, letters they could open on every birthday so that I could be with them when I had gone".

Shagufta was lucky. She spent just two years waiting for a donor organ.

"I had a bag packed at home ready to go to hospital for nearly two years, but when that call came I did not know what to do.

"When I woke up from the operation I just felt so good. The colour had come back into my face and I said 'thank you god for giving me back my life.'"

People from the South Asian community are less likely to donate a major organ than their white counterparts but they are more likely to need one.

The key problem relates to blood groups and tissue typing - some 80% of people in the UK have either the most common blood group O or A, but 70% of Asian people have more the rare blood type B or AB so there are fewer suitable donor organs.

Then there are conflicting religious and cultural beliefs about the rights and wrongs of donation.

Leap of faith

In the last five years only seven major organs were donated in the city's hospitals, according to Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This has become a major cause for concern.

Dr Jehanghir Rehman, a hospital consultant, says: "Machines will not keep you alive for ever. If you are on dialysis it will be a heart attack or some other related condition that will eventually kill you.

"Asian people must take that leap of faith now and really start to consider the possibility within their own families of organ donation.

"Everyone's blood type and tissue type has to match before an organ can be given to a recipient but matching Asian people has added complications. Transplanting Asian organs into Asian people leads to higher success rates."

Mahmud Nawaz is from Leeds. He knows only too well the reality of organ donation. His wife died but because they had already discussed the issue it became a simple choice.

"My wife always wanted to donate her organs so when the doctors asked I was only too happy. Knowing that her heart, lungs and kidneys helped save the lives of four other people including an 18 month old child was so comforting".

"Other Asian families must discuss these issues so that if you are ever faced with such a dilemma it will become easier to make that choice.

"What would you do if you needed that life saving transplant? Would you want someone else to donate to you? If the answer is yes then you must consider doing the same in return."

Two years on since her life saving kidney transplant and Shagufta Sharif has spoken to her family about the issues. Now some of them are on the kidney donor register.

"Find out yourself what's involved and do not listen to those so-called community leaders and preachers who may advise you against organ donation.

"Our community is in the most in need and sadly we do the least to help, surely we have to change this attitude or ultimately it will be us that will suffer the most, our loved ones will just die."

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