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Overcoming Misconceptions Spanish media and the power of testimonials can help


By Suzanne Stone
Originally published in the Nov-Dec 2005 issue of the UNOS Update as part 2 of a 2-part series

Hispanic misconceptions about organ donation will vary depending on a person's level of acculturation. But approaches to addressing the misconceptions can be similar.


Black market fears.

"Some people express concerns about a black market for organ donation, or they think that only the rich and influential receive donated organs," said Dahiana De Francisco said, Hispanic communications coordinator at OneLegacy and vice chair of the Coalition on Donation's Hispanic campaign committee. .


"We explain that the program is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and that the organ allocation is based on medical need."


Catholic support.

"The late Pope John Paul II made a statement supporting donation," added Stacy Underwood, community relations supervisor at the Organ Donor Network of Arizona said and chair of the Coalition on Donation's Hispanic campaign committee..


"So we printed prayer cards that include the statement, and we distribute them at outreach meetings. This is very effective in reaching devout Catholics who may feel donation is against their religion."


"Churches are also a good place for outreach, especially if priests or nuns in the area have had a transplant and can share their experience with congregations," Karen Garcia addedsaid. Garcia is director of community and hospital services at the University of Miami/Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency.


Signing official documents.

Many new immigrants are hesitant to sign anything that looks official, Underwood observed.


"The best way to overcome this fear is to start educating them about the need and suggest they talk to their families. Once they become comfortable with the idea," she said, "they may be more willing to sign a donor card.


"But the actual agreement to donate may not occur until a person dies and then family members remember that they discussed it."


Outreach to Spanish media

One reason Hispanics may be less educated about the need for organ donation is that many do not obtain their news from English media. Effective use of Spanish-speaking media is a vital part of communicating with this audience.


Ideally, OPOs serving communities with large Hispanic populations should have a Spanish-speaking employee on the staff. For smaller regions, having a Spanish-speaking staff member may not be practical.


Even so, OPOs can forge relationships with Spanish-speaking media.


"Remember that most of the people who work at Spanish media outlets, such as public service directors and reporters, are bilingual," said Garcia. "You can communicate with them in English, and they can disseminate your campaign and message in Spanish." Furthermore, OPOs that don't have a Spanish speaking staff member can work with volunteers who speak the language. Translation is not practical on a live radio or television show, but print interviews can usually be translated.


De Francisco works extensively with media, and she stresses the importance of keeping the issue of donation in front of the people who use Spanish media as their information source. Look for new ways to present the information, she advises.


"For Father's Day, we did a story about a man who donated a kidney to his daughter," she recalled. "Now, we are working with Univision to follow a candidate for a kidney transplant whose sister is donating an organ. After the transplant, Univision will do a follow-up and then air the entire story."


In 2001, the Coalition on Donation launched the first-ever national donation campaign to the Hispanic community. Based on market research and created with al Punto, an advertising agency in Los Angeles specializing in Hispanic and Spanish-language marketing, the campaign includes print, broadcast and transit ads, as well as a Spanish-language website and informational brochure.


This year, the Coalition's Hispanic campaign committee provided materials for Coalition affiliates to use to promote donation during National Hispanic Heritage Month in September. The Coalition's Hispanic campaign committee is currently working on a new inititiative connected with National Hispanic Heritage Month. Plans are also in place to redesign the website and include a Spanish-language version on the U.S. map currently found on, which provides state-by-state instructions about committing to donation.


The power of testimonials

Garcia, Underwood and De Francisco have found that testimonials from donors and recipients are an extremely powerful way to communicate the need for donors.


"They know that you're speaking on behalf of an organization, and that alone can make people skeptical. But if they hear from a donor and recipient, it can change their perspective," Underwood emphasized.


One of De Francisco's donor volunteers is Edith Gonzalez, who made a difficult last-minute decision to donate her 34-year-old husband's organs when he suffered an unexpected cerebral hemorrhage.


In sharing her story, Gonzalez explains that when she was first approached at the hospital about donation, she wanted to "slap the woman" telling her about it. She was left alone to read a brochure in Spanish that included the late Pope John Paul II's statement in support of donation.


Although she and her husband had never discussed donation, she realized that her husband was the type of man who would have wanted to donate his organs, so she gave her consent.


These personal stories can be powerful, especially when accompanied by a transplant recipient who received the gift of life.


In addition to the emotional impact of testimonials, donor family members can alleviate concerns that donors are paid for giving organs. And donor family members also can assure potential donors that donation does not result in the disfigurement of a loved one, which would make an open casket funeral painful.


"Nothing can match this type of testimonial," De Francisco said. "Donor family members can communicate the emotions involved in making the decision.


"And," she added, "they can explain that making this choice allowed them to give life to someone else."

About the Author

Suzanne Stone is a free-lance writer/editor in Carmichael, Calif. She writes frequently about health education and medical issues, including donation and transplantation. She can be reached at


Suggested Resources

link to Done Vida - Best Practices Library of the Members section of the Coalition on Donation's website includes the PowerPoint presentation, "Getting to Know Your Hispanic Community."


link to Done Vida - the Coalition on Donation's website for Spanish-speaking populations. Includes first-person accounts of transplantation and donation experiences ("Stories of Hope"), basic facts about donation and a downloadable family notification card signifying donor intent.


1-800-485-VIDA Coalition on Donation's Spanish-language information line


Pope John Paul's statement on organ donation (paragraph 86)


Prayer cards and bulletin inserts featuring Pope Benedict XVI are available in English and Spanish, especially appropriate for Donor Sabbath recognitions. For ordering information, contact Nancy Evans at the Coalition on Donation, (804) 782-4967 or