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African-Americans Struggle For Kidney Donations

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By Rebecca Sheir

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports more than a third of people awaiting kidney transplants in the U.S. are African-American, yet they are less likely to receive transplanted kidneys than whites.

But in a mass kidney exchange performed in the D.C. area, more than half the recipients are African-American.

Dr. Jimmy Light performed some of the transplants in the historic swap, which involved a chain of nearly 30 people giving and receiving kidneys. Many of the recipients had been on dialysis for years.

"Dialysis keeps you alive, but a transplant lets you live," he says. "These people have their lives."

That would be the 14 recipients, nine of whom are African-American.

Light says African-Americans have the best chance of a successful kidney transplant from a black donor. But finding one can be tough, since African-Americans are more prone to diabetes and high blood pressure, and, therefore, kidney disease.

Barbara Norton, a white woman from Rockville, Maryland, donated her kidney to Tracye Johnson, an African-American woman from Waldorf.

"What I realized immediately was there’s a desperate need to address those suffering from kidney disease," Norton says, "especially those in the African-American community."

Two weeks after the transplant, Tracye Johnson says she feels worlds better than before.

"I made up t-shirts to try to find a donor," she recalls. "My t-shirts said: ‘I Need A Donor, So I Can Have Wings To Fly.’ And she’s given me wings to fly!"

Johnson says she looks forward to a brand "new life."

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