Lisa Strother Upsher, the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program Director at the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE), is faced with resistance everyday. It’s her job to inform and persuade, and sway opinions when possible. Paula K. Davis, D&R Champion previously recognized for her work with diversity recruitment at the University of Pittsburgh, says this about Lisa Strother Upsher, “Lisa must navigate people’s faith, tradition, beliefs about their very being, and their perceptions of death and dying in outlining why they should consider registering as donors.” “People sometimes can’t see past the misperceptions of being an organ donor,” Lisa states. She quells these concerns and raises awareness by conducting ongoing community-based education presentations. Some people need to be approached six or seven times through presentations at work, school, community, and even church before they understand the value of being an organ donor.
Lisa has the persistence to do this, and she developed it early on. She was born in West Virginia, the baby of 13 children. With seven other girls and five boys, Lisa had to be persistent just to be heard. A self proclaimed “minister’s kid,” she grew up in a small but diverse area of Italian, Polish, and African-American ancestry. Lisa feels that growing up in a small community where “everyone knows everyone,” provided her with a safety zone to develop into who she is. She has always worked in jobs related to health disparity in the multi-cultural community. She spent 15 years as a field manager for Healthy Start, Inc., another non-profit, where she developed and trained community outreach workers. Lisa has been working at CORE for five years, where she finds her work not only rewarding, but challenging in her everyday interactions with people. “When you treat others the way they want to be treated, then you make people feel valued and respected and you can change everything for the greater good”, Lisa states. She continues, “A greater diversity of donors can increase access to transplantation for everyone.” Although people of different races frequently match one another, compatible blood types and tissue markers that are critical qualities for matching, are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity. Paula K. Davis, who nominated Upsher as a Dignity & Respect Champion says, “Under-represented individuals suffer disproportionately from illness that may result in the need for transplantation. Discussions of what may happen to our bodies after dying is very uncomfortable. Lisa must discuss the benefit to the living while respecting the individual.” Lisa does this as she communicates to people the importance of being an organ donor and as she educates people against the myths and misperceptions of organ donation. “The number one negative myth is that if you put ‘Organ Donor’ on your license, people are going to let you die.” Lisa states. “The public needs to be made aware that this is irrational. Sometimes they need to hear it numerous times from institutions they respect, and places they trust, before they realize this, “she adds. Lisa’s job is to educate people how untrue this myth is. And she will do just that, no matter how many times it takes.
Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact and promotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.