Former NFL player to lead call for organ donation in Albany

Feb. 25—ALBANY — From organizing swimming lessons for kids, supporting suicide prevention, anti-violence initiatives and efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler has made reducing the number of cases he's called to a priority. Fowler now is looking to dispel some of the "myths" about a topic that is critical to the county's largely black population.

This week the coroner is tackling the issue of organ donation, including the disparity in the number of African Americans on waiting lists and the low number among black people who are organ donors.

To help get the message across, Fowler has enlisted former NFL player Bobby Howard to speak at a Tuesday pastoral luncheon at Doublegate Country Club. The program, featuring the former Tampa Buccaneer running back whose life was improved with a kidney transplant, kicks off at noon.

"I've heard all kinds of myths," Fowler said. "We want to show them the need. So many people are on the list; for kidneys, skin grafts for people who have been in a fire. There are other organs: bone marrow, eyes, all kinds of things that are going to be used. We just want to encourage people to be donors."

Among the myths that keep some from becoming organ donors are religious beliefs such as that people will need their bodies intact in the afterlife, the coroner said.

"There are other myths," he added.

In the United States, black Americans are 39% of those on the waiting list for kidney transplants but are only 23% of those who receive a deceased organ, according to the National Institutes of Health.

African Americans are less likely to be organ donors or sign donor cards, the agency said. A large Gallup poll found that 72% of whites were very or somewhat likely to be donors, compared to 52% of black responders, and another study showed that only one-third of African Americans planned to donate organs, compared to more than half of whites.

Howard, who suffered from severe kidney disease, received a kidney transplant in 1994. As LifeLink of Georgia's Multicultural Donation Education Program director, the former pro football star earned the Achievement Award for Outstanding Service and Dedication to the organization's mission.

Howard has worked with local and national coalitions as well as community partners to spread the message.

He has served as president of the Association for Multicultural Affairs in Transplantation of the Georgia Transplant Foundation as well as serving on boards of LifeLink and other organizations.