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Founder's Letter: Why Is This The Health Conversation That I Have Shied Away From?

It feels a little strange to be writing to you on a Wednesday, knowing that you will be reading this on a Thursday. So, you may be wondering why there is a Founder’s Letter on a Thursday. Well, in case you missed the memo, we said that health and wellness would be a key priority for us this year. That's why I wanted to write this letter to mark World Kidney Day. Hopefully, you'll stay with me until the end of this letter.

Black Ballad has covered a lot of health issues and experiences and how they uniquely affect black women and the wider black community. Yet, we have never tackled the topic of living donation and I wondered why, and why I have even shied away from the conversation, at least publicly. Part of it may be due to one of my siblings battling kidney dialysis. Yet, I also know as a community some health topics feel more sensitive due to past treatment with the health system and it is important to acknowledge those feelings if we are to move forward and be as healthy as possible as a community.

In February, I met with Derricka Simpson (via zoom) to discuss living donation, as she donated a kidney to her dad when he was diagnosed with kidney failure in November 2019. Part of my desire to talk to Derricka came from finding out that black people who need a kidney transplant wait around six-months longer to find a suitable match, compared to others who wait an average of two years.

Derricka & her dad

While Derricka donated to a family member, it is also possible to volunteer to donate a kidney to help someone you don’t know who is on the transplant waiting list. It is important at the very least that as a community we are aware of living kidney donation and the impact it can have on transforming someone’s life. . Why? While kidneys are matched by blood group and tissue type, there is a better chance of finding a match from a donor of the same ethnicity.

During the call, Derricka and I discussed why we don’t talk about living donation as much as other health issues within the community. Particularly,when more black donors are needed due to the growing number of black people on the waiting list and waiting for a donor match for longer, which in some cases can be fatal. Derricka quite rightly says that it's a health topic that feels “taboo,” but she says as a community we need to educate ourselves on the topic and know the basic facts and she is right.

As we end our call I ask her, how her dad is nearly five years on from the transplant. She smiles and says: “he's definitely been able to resume his hobbies and what he loves the most, which is playing Domino's. He’s spending time with his friends, and [returned to] cooking because [the kidney] dialysis stole so much of our time. He’s also able to just get back on track, returned to work and taken full control of his life post-transplant, so he’s really just become himself again."

Derricka & her dad

We spoke about how the waiting times for black patients when it comes to kidney transplants, prompted her to be proactive in seeing if she could be a match for her father. Yet, what strikes me most is the in-depth process and multiple physical and psychological tests that take place to see if you can be a match- something that is rarely spoken about when discussing kidney transplants.

“You start off with blood samples and tests to find out if you are predisposed to any diseases in your family. You also have an MRI, heart scan, CT scan, every scan that there is, they do. You also have a psychological assessment - it's a very thorough process to make sure you are suitable to donate.”

Speaking with Derricka, I find her inspirational. She made a sacrifice that many of us would do in theory or say flippantly. How many times have we said about our loved ones, "I'll give my right arm for you?” But, to put yourself through it, is another thing. She explains how she felt after the surgery: “I had a mix of emotions. I was overwhelmingly happy and thankful that [my dad’s body] accepted my kidney."


Patients in need of a kidney transplant wait for an average of 2 years for a suitable match. Black patients tend to wait around six months longer. Let's close that gap Click the button below to find more information about Living Organ Donation