Helen Adams / MUSC Office of Communication and Marketing
Rev. Mary Holmes Singleton was named a Transplant Angel by MUSC for her organ donation advocacy. The Reverend Mary Holmes Singleton has a calling that goes beyond the African Methodist Episcopal church where she preaches in North Charleston. It can be summed up in three words: “Enough is enough.”
She’s had enough of people waiting for organ transplants that never come. People like her father, who died of kidney disease. “I look at the young people who are dying. Don’t let those organs go back in the ground. There are so many parts of your body that they can use.” She encourages people to become living donors as well, giving organs such as kidneys that they can live without.
This week, Singleton was honored at the Medical University of South Carolina as a Transplant Angel for her organ donation advocacy. MUSC doctors perform about 200 transplants a year through the Transplant Center, the only comprehensive organ transplant center in the state.
But the need is enormous. There are more than 100,000 people across the country waiting for organs, mostly for kidneys. The kidney waiting list in South Carolina includes more than 900 people. The chief of MUSC’s Division of Transplant Surgery, Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., spoke about Singleton at the Transplant Angel award ceremony. “We were fortunate enough to receive a phone call from her,” Baliga said. “She wanted to be a living donor herself and, through a variety of circumstances, that didn’t work out. She helped us at the most recent AME convention to have a booth to screen other members of the church and be a strong advocate for kidney donation.”
Reaching members of the AME church, who are predominantly African-American, is important, Baliga said. African-Americans have a kidney failure rate three times higher than that of Caucasians. Doctors link that to higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. So while African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, they make up a third of the people waiting for kidney donations. Race is not a criterion for organ matching, but people are more likely to be a match with someone of their own racial or ethnic background because they have better odds of having compatible blood types and tissue markers. Singleton said she’s trying to reach members of every AME church in South Carolina – and beyond. “I got the call yesterday, saying, ‘I like what you’re doing in the state of South Carolina,’ she told the audience at the Transplant Angel ceremony. “It was Dr. Miriam Burnett, medical director for the health commission of the AME.”
Singleton said Burnett had a question for her. “’I want to make you happen on a national level. Are y’all on board?’” The answer was an enthusiastic yes. “We will be in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 400,000 of us,” Singleton said, at a national AME convention. Her organ donation advocacy, born at MUSC, will grow to reach a huge new audience. “Someone’s talking good about us, and let us rejoice!” Singleton said. “Whatever MUSC needs, the AME church – here we stand, ready to serve.”