Health

Trailblazing Howard U. Surgeon Callender Honored

Minority Organ Transplant Architect's Faith-Based Approach

The American Society of Transplant Surgeons recently honored longtime Howard University surgeon and College of Medicine faculty member Dr. Clive O. Callender as the first African American recipient of its Pioneer Award, the most distinguished honor bestowed by the organization upon an individual, for his work in the organ and tissue transplant and donation field.

“I can think of no one at this moment in our history who is more deserving of this recognition than Dr. Callender,” Dr. Marwan Aboulijoud, president of ASTS said. “He spoke about organ transplants before it was fashionable.”

Callender expressed his gratitude for receiving the recognition.

“I am very excited about receiving the Pioneer Award and I am honored to be the first Black to get it,” Callender said. “I am honored that the association would consider my work.”

Callender received the award during August as National Minority Awareness Donor Month. In the early 1970s, Callender started the first minority-directed dialysis and transplant center in the country at  Howard University Hospital. 

In 1991, Callender conceived and started the National Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) for the purpose of increasing minority donation rates nationally. MOTTEP has been widely credited for increasing the awareness of organ and tissue donation in minority communities. Initially started as a week dedicated to minority awareness of organ and tissue donation, MOTTEP expanded it to become a monthly recognition in 1996.

Organ and Tissue Donation Issues

Many medical professionals who practice in the organ and tissue donation field are aware of the lack of minority donors. Numerous studies have confirmed minorities tend to suffer from higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease that contribute to organ failure, especially kidney failure than whites. Blacks are three times more likely than whites to have kidney failure and Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than non-Latinos to suffer the same affliction than non-Latinos. Plus, on average Black transplant candidates wait longer than non-Black transplant candidates for kidney, heart and lung transplants.

Callender’s Work

Callender said he approaches his endeavors with the zeal of an evangelist.

“One of the things I learned early [in my career] was there was a shortage of donors and a complexity in this shortage of donors and that minorities and African Americans were rarely donors,” he said. “This then became the quest for me because I had a rich experience as a church person, and I thought that this was something I should try to do. Yes, it was an impossible dream. But then, in my life, the impossible became possible. So, this became the challenge that I took up.”

Callender said the coronavirus pandemic has had an effect on his work, with suspensions on advancing the cause due to lack of public engagement.

“Because of COVID, we could not go out into the community,” he said. “We then did webinars and had Zoom sessions to keep the momentum of minority organ and tissue donation going.”

Callender said his annual MOTTEP gala will take place on Nov. 20 primarily as an in-person event but with a virtual option. He said the event also has another special meaning.

“It will be my 85th birthday and 30 years since I created MOTTEP,” he said.

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