Thomas Wyatt, MD

Loyal Shawnee & Quapaw Tribe

I am an emergency physician.

I practice emergency medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center and I am a registered member of the Shawnee and Quapaw tribes of Oklahoma. I grew up in Oklahoma and my American Indian family are all from Oklahoma. There are so many things that make me proud to be an American Indian. I think it all goes back to family and the strong sense of community. It’s very common for Native Americans to not only look out for and take care of their own family but also members of the community.

There are traditions that are followed in my tribes and whenever somebody dies there are certain ceremonies and rituals that have to take place. The overwhelming theme is that everyone comes together to honor the person who just died and to wish them well on their journey into the spirit world. There is a belief which I think is fairly common in most American Indian tribes that whenever you leave this world and enter into the spirit world that you will join the other members of your family and your friends that have also passed on. They will be there to welcome you and take care of your during your journey in the spirit world.

In my line of work and my role as an emergency physician it’s very common for me to see people on the worst day of their lives. Myself and my colleagues witness a lot of tragedy, but my beliefs comfort me. You came from the earth and so the belief is that you go back into the earth and again you enter into your next journey. I often hear the question, “is there anything else that could have been done?” Medically speaking, most of the time there was not, but I always think about what it would mean for that family to know that organ donation is something that can turn a tragedy into something very positive – not just for one other person but perhaps for many people.

It’s shocking to learn the actual numbers of how many American Indians are on waiting lists for organs and transplants. To me that just means that certain diseases are much more prevalent in the Indian community than they are in the rest of population. I also don’t think that there is a lot of information out there for American Indian communities. There may be some fear and confusion when families are approached about organ donation. There can also be some cultural barriers.

Providing the American Indian community with more information about organ donation would give them the tools to make a choice. It’s a very important concept that largely has not been talked about in the American Indian community. Talk Donation could lead more American Indians to incorporate donation into their culture and their community so that they can impact more lives.

My name is Dr. Thomas Wyatt and I made the choice to be a donor.