By Cindy Aldrige, F.N.P., Provider for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group.
Have you ever been asked about organ donation… maybe at the DMV? Do you have a lot of questions about the process? I’ve worked in the Emergency Department for years and as an EMT on an ambulance and I have a lot of experience with this topic from the medical/caregiver point of view. I was always in favor of donation, but a personal experience just made me affirm my decision even more!
Let’s talk about some concerns people have when the topic of being an organ donor comes up.
Let’s face it, when even discussing this topic for possible publication we had someone say, “well I’ve heard that if I sign up as an organ donor, they won’t try to save me.”
This so, so far from the truth. Health care providers work to resolve every problem/concern EVERY TIME. They try to save YOU, NOW… they’re not looking to save someone in the future.
In healthcare, workers have a very strong code of ethics. We do everything in our power to help and knowledge is what we all strive for. Plus, working together as a team, if anyone forgets or messes up, the others are not afraid to step up and correct them.
Organ donation, from a healthcare prospective, is something that is thought about after someone has been given every opportunity and there is no hope for recovery or has already died.
Let me tell you my family’s experience.
I have a cousin that was living in Key West when she was riding home from work on her motorcycle one night. A car didn’t yield to traffic signs and ran right into her. She was taken to a trauma center in Miami, Florida and they did everything they could to assess her and take care of her. Her sister lived nearby and rushed to the hospital. My parents were visiting central Florida so they responded as well. The rest of the family flew down as soon as they could get flights.
The medical staff cared for her for days, but she was not improving. They determined that she was brain dead. Her other organs were working fine, but her brain would never improve. She was on a ventilator and tubes to sustain her life. She had many experts and tests that were ran and re-ran in hopes that she would show signs of improvement, but she was never going to get better.
Our family knew her wishes in advance… which is key in making these tough decisions. We knew there would be no question as to what Angie would want done – to help as many people as possible since there was no hope for her improvement. When the topic of organ donation came up, we knew what the next decisions were going to have to be. It’s never easy, but knowing her wishes in advance made the decision to disconnect life support a bit easier. We knew she wouldn’t want to continue in a lifeless state, having to be cared for with no quality of life.
The support team and hospital staff were very supportive. Our family was able to control decisions, decide the time frame and get all our questions answered before any further action was taken.
I’ve experienced this on a professional level as well when families have made the difficult decision to help others through organ donation.
I’ve seen families make this incredibly difficult decision. The medical staff takes the person off life support, monitoring their response, just as they would anyone that was taken off life support that wasn’t donating organs. After they’re pronounced dead, the talented team of experts begin to work to save as many lives as they can with the viable tissue and organs that can be used. They coordinate getting recipients into other operating rooms awaiting the transplanted organs and they update families. They coordinate hospital staff and flights for organs that can be used.
What a glorious day when learning well over a year after we said our goodbyes to my cousin Angie, that Angie’s kidney had saved a family from having to sell their home to pay for medical expenses. The man that got Angie’s kidney is now able to work and spend time with his many children, all because Angie and her family were so generous to save other lives! Angie’s kidney is in Iowa today, thriving and doing well, taking care of that young family and allowing children to grow up with a father that can be active with them.
We were contacted by letter from this man, so grateful for his gift of life. Many other people have benefited from Angie’s gift as well, but we know the kidney story and we know the happy ending. Everyone that knows me or reads this will understand that I’m an organ donor. I will do everything in my power to help people even after they sign my death certificate!
Thank you for letting me share our personal organ donation story with you.
If you still have questions, I would be happy to speak to you. You can also learn more here where the Mayo clinic talks about the most common questions asked about organ donation.
I’ve also included a couple of other links about organ donation and end of life care. Please, please make your wishes known and fill out the paperwork and sign up on the organ donation registry so your family can honor YOUR wishes rather than have to make tough decisions in a time of crisis.