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Perspectives on Working with Multicultural Donor Families


Marisa Hemenez, Family Resource Coordinator, Donor Network West

1. Working with donor families from diverse multicultural backgrounds requires you to demonstrate cultural competence and cultural humility; what strategies and best practices do you bring to this work?

Marisa Hemenez, Donor Network West

Marisa Hemenez, Donor Network West

I work with the awareness that people are shaped by their ethnicity, skin color, age, physical abilities, language, gender, religion, politics, sexual orientation, and residential status.  Though it is difficult to know every single culture’s traditional beliefs and practices, it is seemingly possible for all professionals to provide unconditional respect and willingness to learn.  However, despite culture, the pain that comes with a loved one’s death is universal.

2. What messages about donation seem to resonate most with diverse families in terms of garnering consent? 

Helping others is a common theme for families of color, especially those that have experienced multiple losses, financial hardship, family separation due to immigration, and/or discrimination.  Families that have experienced this type of pain express immediate empathy for recipients and are willing to spare another family of their present grief.

3. What life experience as a person of color informs the way you approach multicultural donor families? 

My practice comes with that understanding that people of color and immigrants have a history of injustice and struggle which understandably may lead to a mistrust of the medical system.  Unwavering positive regard without judgement is important.  And when I don’t know the answer, humility is the best approach.  I also try to practice self-awareness and reflection on a daily basis, while staying aware of the possibility of countertransference.

 4. How can our industry move the needle on getting more diverse donor families on board? How can we better support the work that you do?

As an industry, it is important to acknowledge that some cultures make decisions as a system and are caught by surprise when informed at the hospital that their love one registered to be an organ donor.  Families who were unaware of their loved one’s First Person Registry (FPA) may initially feel disempowered due to the legally binding document, combined with acute grief.  Cultural considerations must be duly noted and respected, as well as early intervention by a family coordinator.  Respectful and gentle support to a family with a FPA is imperative.


Melvin Whitlock, Family Resource Coordinator, Donor Network West

1. Working with donor families from diverse multicultural backgrounds requires you to demonstrate cultural competence and cultural humility; what strategies and best practices do you bring to this work?

Melvin Whitlock, Family Resource Coordinator, Donor Network West

Melvin Whitlock, Donor Network West

An emphasis on how they can possibly have a positive impact on the lives of people their own community with organ and tissue donation.  Although it is not always the most important idea for the families I work with it is one of the best strategic practices I bring to work when working with families from diverse multicultural backgrounds Families are often moved when educated on the need of live saving organs/tissues in their community and the possibility of being able to help their community if they authorization donation. Families like to help out their fellow human beings in general without placing emphasis on considering their own community but the information often seems to still empower them more.

2. What messages about donation seem to resonate most with diverse families in terms of garnering consent? 

When working with diverse families the message that seems to resonate most in terms of garnering authorization is the fact that their loved one is going to be a hero to others in this world—a  hero not only to the recipients receiving the gifts but also to the recipients immediate and extended family and friends.  The work “gifts” to describe the organs and tissue being authorized also seems to resonate really well with families.

3. What life experience as a person of color informs the way you approach multicultural donor families? 

As a person of color the life experiences  I have with distrust of the medical community, the intimidation felt by the medical community, the lack of experience in the ICU setting and the lack of end of life conversations in the community to the way  I approach multicultural donor families.

 5. How can our industry move the needle on getting more diverse donor families on board? How can we better support the work that you do?

In order to get more diverse families on board the industry can improve funding and staffing for education and outreach so that families are aware and educated about the option of organ donation ahead of time. This will allow them to register on the organ donor registry in advance or allow them to make a decision in advance that will be made much easier when approached in the hospital setting.  That in itself will support the work that I do.


Sal Guerrero,  Family Resource  Coordinator, Donor Network West and Former AMAT president

1. Working with donor families from diverse multicultural backgrounds requires you to demonstrate cultural competence and cultural humility; what strategies and best practices do you bring to this work?

Sal Guerrero, Family Resource Coordinator, Donor Network West

Sal Guerrero, Family Resource Coordinator, Donor Network West

I bring trust and confidence. But overall I bring sincerity and understanding of their pain hoping to help and offer them something positive out of something so tragic.

2. What messages about donation seem to resonate most with diverse families in terms of garnering consent?

The families wish to be Treated with respect and dignity as for their love one they also like to consider that they are making a difference within the community that they live in. knowing about the recipients and getting to know them in the near future if possible.

 3. What life experience as a person of color informs the way you approach multicultural donor families?

I try to be sensitive to their issues that are pertaining to them at that point in time I’ll render grief support and offer them physical support and spiritual support to them and their families;  I will reunite and unite families; I bring passion and believe that miracles can happen.

4. How can our industry move the needle on getting more diverse donor families on board? How can we better support the work that you do?

We need more education training among hospitals and more stories in the media telling the true stories of the families that are being affected.  We need people of color in leadership positions to move the needle forward; we need to know that they understand what our needs are, like funeral expenses, or how to pay the rent or monthly mortgage after the death of a loved one. Thank you very much for the opportunity.


LaTara Taylor, Family Resource Coordinator, Donor Network West

1. Working with donor families from diverse multicultural backgrounds requires you to demonstrate cultural competence and cultural humility; what strategies and best practices do you bring to this work?  

I always make sure that I do not enter an interaction with a family with biased thoughts.  I never assume anything because you can never say who will or will not donate.  We have to approach each family with an open mind and a caring heart.  I believe that we can truly touch people when we provide genuine care and compassion.  It is also important to inquire about a families’ cultural traditions and support them in fulfilling their needs.

2. What messages about donation seem to resonate most with diverse families in terms of garnering consent?  

Letting a family know that donation will not interfere with their funeral plans for a viewing and that they can possibly help someone they know through directed donation.  Having a personal connection to the recipient can help to provide some additional comfort for the family.

3. What life experience as a person of color informs the way you approach multicultural donor families?  

I make sure that I identify who the family recognizes as the head/spokesperson of the family and start with that person.  Families are sometimes very protective of the patient’s spouse, mother and children and will request that information goes through a particular person.  It is also important to inquire about the family’s pastoral support and observe how much the family relies on that individual.  That person may be very influential in the family’s decisions and is someone with whom you would want to speak and discuss their thoughts about donation.

4. How can our industry move the needle on getting more diverse donor families on board? How can we better support the work that you do?  

We all know that education is power.  The more families are exposed to the message of organ and tissue donation, the more likely they will choose to donate.  Some of the most powerful tools to reach people are television and radio.   Another place to reach diverse families is at their place of worship.  People of color are greatly influenced by their faith leaders and that is a good place to reach a large, captive audience.  I also think that reaching out to the friends and family members of recipients and waiting recipients could get more families on board.


Brook Williams, LSW, Manager of Family Service with Annie Lucious, Family Care Specialist, Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency

1.  Working with donor families from diverse multicultural backgrounds requires you to demonstrate cultural competence and cultural humility; what strategies and best practices do you bring to this work?

Brook Williams and Annie Lucious

At left, Brook Williams, LSW, Manager of Family Service with Annie Lucious, Family Care Specialist, Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency

Mindfulness.  Being in the moment by showing sensitivity, compassion and respect thru end-of-life care. 

2. What messages about donation seem to resonate most with diverse families in terms of garnering consent?

Emphasizing autonomy with end-of-life decisions.

3. What life experience as a person of color informs the way you approach multicultural donor families?

Both of us grew up in homes reared by educators. From this experience,  we feel it is of utmost importance to educate.  Families need clarity.  It is a must to not only inform, but educate in a way that is conducive to cultural diversity.

4. How can our industry move the needle on getting more diverse donor families on board? How can we better support the work that you do?

Outreach and education within the community is key.

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