Hospitals start process on way to organ donation
CHRISTINE PIZZUTI • FOR THE POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL
All hospitals are required to participate in a chain of procedures involving potential organ donors — from getting permission, to notifying a local organ procurement organization when opportunities arise.
"We deal with the donor and the family, and the process of making a decision to donate," said Jean Walsh, a trauma coordinator at Saint Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, a level 2 trauma center.
"Preparing the patient to donate is very emotionally exhausting, but gratifying at the same time. If you think about it, it's such a tragic thing that's occurred , but on the other hand, it's one of the most generous and gracious things a family can do is to take a tragedy and turn around and make a gift of life to other people, and to make other people's lives better because of it."
There is no one person designated to start the chain. Doctors and nurses recognize potential donors who will soon face brain or cardiac death.
Before approaching the family, there are several criteria a patient must be determined to meet. The hospital then calls the New York Organ Donor Network.
"You can never be wronged or criticized in making that call, because sometimes people look like they're moving in that direction," Walsh said.
Most donors are young adults who wind up in the intensive care unit, often as a result of car crashes or other incidents that caused brain trauma. Many patients have already made the decision to donate, whether it be a signature on their driver's license or through the Donate Life Registry.
Organ procurement can be difficult, especially if the family isn't ready to face the decision. Once the decision is made, the patient is brought to the operating room. Then a team of medical specialists converges on the hospital with equipment and coolers, and are gone as quickly as possible with kidneys, lungs, eyes and even skin and bone.
"It's very hard, because the families have to say good-bye. Then they say good-bye before the OR (operating room), and then again when the patient is pronounced (dead)," Walsh said. "But it is an unbelievable gift. It's hard to accept in the beginning, but sometimes it helps them to move on knowing they did something so generous."
She said things have changed in recent years in terms of organ transplant education, and as a result, some families are already prepared to make the decision.
"People, I find, are so educated about it now because of the publicity, and a lot of patient families will say off the bat, 'She wanted to be an an organ donor, I know she did,' " Walsh said.
But this is less common in pediatric cases, where parents just can't come to terms with such a procedure being performed on their child. "I think it's too overwhelming," she said.
"It's a very special gift. The reality is that when we're born, we're all going to die — and that's a journey we begin at birth," she said. "What a beautiful legacy to help someone live at that point where we no longer need our organs."