New Mexican Donor Services push for more Native American donors

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than 600 New Mexicans are waiting for life-saving organ transplants. Native Americans make up 20% of that list. That is why New Mexico Donor Services is releasing a new video to play in MVDs across the state. It features an interview with Alanna Tootoosis-Baker, a member of the Poundmaker Cree Nation.  

Tootoosis-Baker talks about how she first got sick in 2012. Two years later, her health spiraled after a fever turned into the flu, and before she knew it, she was put on an ECMO machine and saying goodbye to her loved ones. 

“Because you don’t know,” Tootoosis-Baker said in the interview. “You don’t know if you’re going to wake up from it.” 

Fortunately, a miracle came in the form of two lungs, giving her a second chance at life. 

“Just to be able to breathe on your own,” she said. “It’s amazing because there was a time I couldn’t.” 

New Mexico Donor Services told KOB 4 the MVD is the perfect venue to share Tootoosis-Baker’s story because it is where most people make the important decision to become an organ donor. 

“They’ll be able to watch this video and see the impact that it will have,” External Affairs Director Celina Espinoza said. 

The organization hopes it will boost donor registration numbers, especially in the Native American community. 

“That population specifically is really in need of organs,” Espinoza said. 

She added that of the 128 Native Americans waiting for a life-saving transplant in New Mexico, 116 need kidneys, 10 need livers, one needs a heart, and one needs a set of lungs. 

“It’s something that culturally is difficult to talk about, with beliefs in that community,” Espinoza explained. “So, we really tried to approach donation and transplantation in a way that’s meaningful and shows how impactful it is to carry on that culture and really be able to move that discussion forward.” 

The video also documents Tootoosis-Baker’s return as a Pow-wow dancer following her most recent surgery. She said she hopes the story of how organ donation saved her life inspires others to also give the gift of life. 

“The Creator gifts you with something” she said in the video. “A doctor was gifted with the idea of how to do a transplant. Me doing an interview here, I’m trying to promote Donate Life, and if I can help somebody, I think that’s part of my purpose here to my gift.”