HERMISTON — Organ donations are often born out of a day of deep sorrow for one family and great joy for another.
When a hospital does outstanding work in navigating such a difficult, yet lifesaving situation, the Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank awards the Hope Award. Good Shepherd Health Care System was recognized on Thursday, April 22, for the work staff did in facilitating such a gift of life in November 2020.
Barbara Thompson, chair of the PNTB board of directors, said organ donations are rare in hospitals the size of Good Shepherd, as most patients that would be a candidate for donation end up being transferred to a larger hospital for care first. Good Shepherd’s last such donation was in 2008.
In November, however, a Good Shepherd employee recognized that a patient’s organs would be able to be donated if the patient’s family agreed to do so before the patient was removed from a ventilator.
“You have to recognize really quickly that, that potential exists,” Thompson explained, noting doing so can be difficult in the midst of trying to save a life.
In an all-hands-on-deck effort, staff from multiple departments worked to make arrangements and to support the family as they made the decision with a chaplain and other advocates by their side. Once the decision was made, doctors, nurses and other staff lined the hallways in a silent “honor walk” as the patient was wheeled to surgery. Director of Acute Care Services Sara Camden said such honor walks are a way to show respect for the patient and their family.
“We know it takes courage to make those decisions,” she said.
Some of the staff who participated in the honor walk have a personal connection to organ and tissue donation, and know how it can save or dramatically change a life. Camden said she is a living donor — she gave up one of her kidneys for her stepfather a few years ago. And Vice President of Nursing Brian Patrick was overjoyed his daughter got a call in the middle of the night that there was a kidney for her and she needed to rush to the hospital immediately.
April is Donate Life Month, to bring awareness to the need for organ and tissue donations. Andrea Vandomelen, hospital development manager for Pacific Northwest Transplant Bank, said there are more than 100,000 people in the United States who are on the waiting list for an organ transplant, which can mean years of waiting — time not everyone on the list has.
Some organs can come from living donors, such as a kidney or a part of one’s liver. Tissues, such as corneas, can be donated in many circumstances after a patient has already died. But other lifesaving organs, such as a heart or lungs, are only available in very specific circumstances — a patient must be declared brain dead by two different doctors but still have healthy organs that continue to work. According to the PNTB website, less than 1% of hospital deaths meet the criteria for organ donation.
The Hope Award presented to Good Shepherd from PNTB is shaped like a teardrop, representing the tears of those who have lost a loved one and doctors who have lost a patient, but also the tears of joy from transplant recipients and their loved ones. Recipients and donor families are able to make choices about whether they would like to share or receive information about each other, either on an anonymous basis passed through a third party, or with the intent to speak directly and perhaps form an ongoing relationship.
Thompson encouraged everyone who would wish their organs to be donated in the event of their death to register for the Donate Life Northwest Donor Registry, a legally binding authorization. For those who aren’t on the registry, but are a candidate for organ donation, the decision is made by the deceased’s next of kin. Whether people register or not, Thompson said they should discuss their wishes with their family members now, so that their loved ones are not blindsided or asked to make a decision not knowing what they would want.
PNTB is the federally designated transplant bank for Oregon, Southern Washington and Western Idaho. In 2020, there were 523 organ donations in the PNTB service area.