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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

New Indiana Donor Network coordinator urges difficult conversations

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Elliott Stubblefield wants to change the narrative surrounding organ donation. 

As Indiana Donor Network’s new director of multicultural engagement, he’ll have the chance to work with members of underrepresented communities to explain the need, dispel myths and start conversations among families regarding end-of-life wishes. 

With years of management work under his belt for various organizations, Stubblefield, 47, said his new position appealed to him because of his mother’s openness about organ donation. By the time he was 13, Stubblefield and his siblings knew exactly what their mother wanted to happen after her death.

“I’m just a little boy from Gary, Indiana, and my mother was very blunt about her intentions,” Stubblefield said with a laugh. “She let us know, ‘I want to give the gift of life to as many people as I can.’”

Stubblefield knows he has a large task ahead of him. There are a lot of myths surrounding organ donation, particularly in the Black community, where mistrust of medical professionals is not uncommon. 

“I don’t concentrate heavily on the negative side and misinformation,” said Stubblefield, who is more focused on changing perceptions and getting more people to sign up to be organ donors, particularly in the Black and Latinx communities. 

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, 60% of Americans currently waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant are from communities of color. However, only 34% of donors in 2019 were from the same groups. For Hoosiers, those numbers are 37% and 17% respectively. 

Stubblefield said working with people and partners from within the Indianapolis community, a large responsibility in his new position, will hopefully be able to make a big difference. 

“We’re trying to get our name out there and get exposure for what we do,” Stubblefield said of working with the community. “We want to be a partner … not just trying to get a brand out there, but to be a service to our community.”

Those who know Stubblefield can attest to his ability to engage with the community and put people first. 

Corye Franklin, principal of Arsenal Tech High School and Stubblefield’s brother in Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said Stubblefield has what it takes to rally a community together. 

“He’s very transparent. He leads with his head and with his heart,” Franklin, who has worked with Stubblefield on several committees, said. “He’s very inquisitive, asks a lot of questions and he’s very pensive when he’s doing something that needs to be done. … He’s just a great person, very humble, and outgoing.”

One of Stubblefield’s biggest goals for his new position is to start conversations among families about end-of-life plans and organ donation. As a father, he understands no one wants to discuss their death, especially not with their children. 

“But, you don’t want them to not know [your wishes] and have another external source of stress,” he said. Taking a page out of his mother’s book, Stubblefield began talking to his daughter — who is currently a sophomore at Indiana University — about organ donation when she was young. 

“She asked me so many questions, and I just made sure I was open,” Stubblefield said. “She’s an organ donor. … I think she’s more interested because she wants to be a doctor.”

Stubblefield said the key to starting these conversations is doing research beforehand. 

“Research is everything. Finding out what the donation process is like … I know that decision is tough, I completely understand people don’t want to talk about it,” Stubblefield said. “But you have to put that past you … make it dinner time conversation or look on the internet. There’s a lot of different resources.”

Indiana Donor Network offers coloring books and child-friendly videos to explain organ donation and to help parents start the conversation with their children. 

“Start at Google,” Stubblefield said. “Find out what it’s about, and it’s an easier way to discuss those things.”

Although he officially started his job at the beginning of August, COVID-19 has made it difficult for Stubblefield to get out in the community, something he said he’s looking forward to the most. 

“I’m so excited about doing what I do best, which is getting out in the community,” Stubblefield said. “I love talking to people, that’s my passion and I want to get the word out. If me putting myself out of my comfort zone saves a life, I know I’ve done my job.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

Give the gift of life! 

To learn more about organ donation and register to be a donor, visit indianadonornetwork.org.

Elliot Stubblefield

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