Indigenous artist raises awareness on need for organ donations

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Kidney disease is a growing issue across the Navajo Nation – right now in New Mexico, more than 130 Native Americans are on the transplant list waiting for life-saving organs and 120 need kidneys.

"With organ donation, it’s easier to find matches within genetic populations, and so within the Native American community, the more that we can talk about awareness and just talk about what donation is, and talk about the need, the more lives we can save and improve people’s lives," said Celina Espinoza, the external affairs director for New Mexico Donor Services.

The organization asked world-renowned artist Nocona Burgess to help spread that message. Burgess is originally from the Comanche Nation in Oklahoma and now lives in Santa Fe. He is also a bone marrow donor.

"I have some work at NMAI – the National Museum of American Indian – the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., I have some art pieces at the American Museum and Bath, England, and also the Bristol England Museum," Burgess said in an interview with NMDS.

Now, one of his pieces, "Giver/Receiver,” is displayed at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington.

"The idea was that the image is either giving this heart or receiving this heart for the purpose of life, you know, continuing life, either for themselves or for somebody else," Burgess said.

“That’s what organ donation is,” Espinoza told KOB 4. “You’re either giving life or letting somebody else’s life continue and really making a miracle happen.”

NMDS commissioned the piece and plans to donate copies to UNM Hospital, Presbyterian, and Christus St. Vincent Medical Center in Santa Fe, to spark conversations about organ donation.

Those who do wish to be donors can choose who they want to help.

"You can direct donation, so you see that often within families, but you can see it in cultural groups as well, so within different tribes, in different ethnicities, to be able to look to see if there are closely related matches," Espinoza said.

"Native American culture, you know, we believe in the circle of life, and those things are a circle, and there’s nothing more circular than this, and nothing more important than this than to give life," Burgess said.

Click here for more information on organ donation and direct donation, or call New Mexico Donor Services at 505-843-7672.