Clive Orville Callender

Clive Callender (born 1936) is one of the foremost specialists in organ transplant medicine in the United States. The Howard University Hospital surgeon has focused much of his career on transplant medicine among minority segments of the population, along with the unique health and social issues relevant to them as potential donors.

Callender was born in New York City on November 16, 1936. As a child, he dreamed of becoming a missionary doctor as a result of one sermon he witnessed at Ebenezer Gospel Tabernacle: "I was listening to the minister who spoke about the two greatest occupations in the world: ministering to the souls of mankind and to the bodies of mankind," he told Black Enterprise in 1988. Callender enrolled in New York City's Hunter College, and had earned degrees in chemistry and physiology by 1959. From there, he entered Nashville's Meharry Medical College, a prestigious school that had long been an important training ground for African-American doctors and medical professionals. Callender graduated first in his class there in 1963.

Originally intending to practice internal medicine, Callender's first internship was at the University of Cincinnati. Yet he realized how little opportunity there was for him as an internist to actually heal patients, and so switched to surgery as his area of interest. From 1964 to 1965 he was a resident at Harlem Hospital, and then was awarded an American Cancer Society fellowship for the following academic year. That was also Callender's first year at Howard University and Freedmen's Hospital, where he was an assistant resident. Another residency at Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Disease was completed, and then Callender returned to Howard University Hospital to become chief resident in 1968. He became an instructor there the following year.


Biafran Civil War

Callender spent part of 1970 and 1971 at D.C. General Hospital as a medical officer, and then was invited to Nigeria's Port Harcourt General Hospital just as the Biafran Civil War was ending in the country; this helped Callender fulfill his childhood goal to work in an altruistic capacity. Biafra was an independent state that seceded from Nigeria in 1967, and the internal strife brought suffering, starvation, and death to the region. After his return to the United States in 1971, the young physician grew increasingly interested in transplant surgery as a specialty; only four years before, South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard shocked the world with his first successful human heart transplant surgery. Medical professionals were growing increasingly proficient in transplanting kidneys and livers successfully, especially with advances being made in the science of human immune response systems.

In 1971 Callender received a special postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. government agency that serves as a research hub for ground breaking medical technology. He spent much of his two years at various medical centers that were making great strides in organ transplant medicine, including the University of Minnesota, where Callender studied under Dr. John Najaraian; he was also able to work with Dr. Samuel Kountz, the first African-American doctor to specialize in the field. Callender went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where he trained with Dr. Thomas Starz, a liver transplant specialist. Returning to the Washington, D.C. area in 1973, he was awarded an assistant professorship at Howard University Hospital's medical school and founded the Howard University Hospital Transplant Center. It was the first such minority-operated center in the United States. He also founded a transplant center in the Virgin Island city of St. Thomas, which bears his name.

Over the next decade, Callender strove to make his Howard University Hospital Kidney and Liver Transplant Center one of the leading sites for minority transplant medicine. Part of his work has involved research into antigens, which are carried by the donor organ into the recipient's blood system and then stimulate an immune response in the recipient; this natural way that the body rejects a foreign presence is one of the major obstacles to successful organ transplants. Callender's Transplant Center has conducted important research into antigen-matching and immunogenetics to help correct this problem. In 1983 he testified about organ donor programs and the minority community in Senate hearings on the matter.


Cultural Taboos

Still, Callender realized that perhaps the greatest obstacle in the organ-transplant field was the scarcity of donor organs, and he became increasingly aware that African Americans registered as organ donors at a far lower rate than white Americans. There were several reasons for this discrepancy, which Callender learned by conducting extensive research into the matter among the African American populace: some held fears that blacks who needed organs would be neglected in favor of white patients; there were also conflicts about organ donations because of deep-seated religious beliefs-the idea that it is disrespectful to enter or otherwise disturb a body after death; and finally, there was a concern that a white physician might be too quick to declare an African American legally dead in order to make his or her organs available for transplant. "When I first got started in this, I didn't realize what an emotional issue it was for blacks," Callender told Paul Delaney in the New York Times in 1991. "We're dealing with myths, but to the people who believe them, the myths are real."

Callender set out to solve this problem and increase minority awareness and support of organ donor programs. African Americans suffer from higher rates of kidney failure and hypertension, while in many cases a donor organ from their own ethnic group yields the best match for a minority patient. In order to take his ideas to the general public, Callender courted funding from the Dow Chemical Company for his "Take Initiative" program. For this awareness campaign, Callender led seminars in which he, a transplant recipient, a donor or member of the donor's family, and someone on a waiting list for an organ share their views with African-American audiences. Callender then passed out organ donor cards, which many enthusiastically signed. As reported in Contemporary Black Biography, he told Jet magazine, "If you take the problem to the Black community and give them an opportunity to become sensitive and give them the knowledge to open the door … they will rally behind the issue."


A Marked Gain in Donors

By 1990 Callender's efforts had yielded impressive results: there was an increase of nearly threefold in the registered number of African-American organ and tissue donors in just five years. As the leading medical professional on minority organ-transplant medicine, Callender has also been an active player in a $6 million program launched by National Institutes of Health in 1991 to found the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP), a program that aims to increase the number of donors among all minority groups in the United States. He has also campaigned for an increase in federal funding for community education programs for organ donor awareness programs. From 1990 to 1991, the Bush Administration increased spending for such programs threefold, to $1.5 million, but Callender told the New York Times that more was needed. "This country spent billions of dollars to fight a war in the Persian Gulf and surely it can spare a few million for such an important task," Callender told Delaney.

In 1994, Callender spoke at the United Network for Organ Sharing symposium about the number of African Americans on waiting lists for donor kidneys, a number higher than that of other ethnic groups in the United States. Callender has argued that the antigen-matching guidelines then in place discriminated against African-Americans, forcing members of this minority group on the list for kidney transplants to wait almost twice as long as whites. Since then, the parameters for antigen-matching have been revised, and Callender has since used his prominent position to speak out for reforming the way in which available organs are allocated at the national and local levels.


Controversy in D.C.

In the spring of 1996 Callender's MOTTEP teamed with the American Medical Association and two other professional organizations to launch a campaign to increase registered organ donors in the United States; basketball star Michael Jordan served as the focal point of an advertising campaign for this. Callender has also defended the practice of using organ-preserving drugs on near-death patients, which in some cases accelerates the process of dying. In 1997 this procedure was legal in Washington, D.C., where Callender's transplant center at Howard University Hospital is located. "We're giving families the option to say 'yes' or 'no,"' Callender told Washington Post reporter Rick Weiss. "If you don't preserve, you have taken away that option." Furthermore, Callender noted that the District of Columbia city council had not passed the law in 1996 without first gleaning the opinion of local citizens through an outreach and education program.

In 1996 Callender became the Lasalle D. Leffall Professor at Howard University, named after the first African-American president of the American College of Surgeons. that same year, Callender also succeeded the actual Dr. Leffall as chair of surgery for Howard University's Medical School. He has been inducted into the Hunter College Alumni Hall of Fame, and is the author of over 70 scientific papers. He married Fern Marshall in 1968, with whom he is parent to three children: Joseph, Ealena, and Arianne.


Further Reading on Clive Orville Callender

Contemporary Black Biography, volume 3, Gale, 1993.

Hawkins, Walter L. African American Biographies 2: Profiles of 332 Current Men and Women, McFarland & Co., 1994.

Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists, Gale, 1995.

New York Times, November 6, 1991.

Washington Post, December 19, 1997.