This is an email I recently sent to my family and friends in order to start the conversation regarding organ donation and end of life decisions. If you are looking to have the same discussion with your family and friends, feel free to use any or all of this and modify as necessary.
I'm on call at the hospital this weekend and thought I'd share one of my experiences with you...
Although I have watched a few surgeries in my tenure, the majority of the time we cannot leave the PACU to go into the OR (there are 12 OperatingRooms and a GI lab where I work) because we might be getting a patient from a different operating room, and we need to be present to recover that patient.
Well, during non-peak times (nights and weekends) we only run 1 or 2 operating rooms, so it is much easier to predict when you need to be in the PACU. In fact, if there is only one surgery going, then (if surgeon, et. al. is okay with it) you can go observe what is going on.
Towards the end of the day on Friday it was known that a patient (who had come in as a trauma) was near death and the transplant team was called in to do an organ retrieval. Since we were down to one other case, and I have never been part of that experience I asked to observe the process.Feel free to continue, I am not going into details regarding the actual surgery.
The patient (a man in his 50s) had suffered a fall down a big, steep flight of stairs and was not going to survive due to bleeding in his brain. It was not known whether the patient had a stroke and then fell down the stairs, or fell down the stairs and everything else happened due to the trauma. This patient was on record as wanting to be an organ donor, and as a result when a patient meets certain criteria, the transplant team is notified. (Technically any time a patient meets certain criteria the transplant team will be notified because at that time specially trained professionals can initiate conversations with the patient's family regarding the possibility of organ donation. This is only done by people with the transplant team who are trained for this situation.
Any questions brought to the (hospital) nurses or doctors will be referred to the specialists.) Once it is either known the patient wanted to be an organ donor, or the transplant team and the family have made the determination that organ donation is something the patient would have wanted, the transplant team can start making the necessary preparations. The most critical elements at this point are time, and the past medical history of the patient, to determine which organs might be a possibility for another patient to receive that desperately needs them.
There are different situations depending on what has happened to the patient and what the cause of death is (particularly a cardiac vs other event). Those differences are complex and not really the purpose of this email. Regarding the element of time, from an organ viability standpoint, you only have so much time once the (patient's heartbeat, and therefore) blood perfusion has stopped. With that in mind, the patient, who is technically still alive at this point, is brought down to the pre-op area just feet away from the operating room. The patient's family members had the option of saying their goodbyes in the patient's ICU room (the patient had come in via ambulance, to ER, then to ICU) or they could come down and sit with him until he passed. This family decided that they would say their goodbyes in the ICU room, so the only people at the bedside in pre-op were other medical professionals. From my standpoint that was lucky for me. I would be perfectly fine with whatever the family decided, but even back in my ER days, it was much easier to focus on the job (during a code) with just the patient.
It is common in the ER in today's day and age to allow the family in the room even during a "code" if they insist, because if the family truly wanted to be there and they were not allowed and the patient passes away, the results are not good for anyone involved. Most people cannot / choose not to be in the room when CPR, etc. is being performed on their loved one, but in the cases where they are, some people understandably get very emotional and that can get to me. As an aside, I've had family members come back in the room after codes to sit with their family member, some of which survived and some of which didn't,and you will see the full range of emotions-from family AND hospital staff.
With this in mind, I was thankful there were not family members present simply because I'm sure without having medical responsibilities(since I was just observing) I would have been more focused on what the family was experiencing, than anything going on with the patient and transplant team.
Once the patient has passed away, the (organ transplant)clock starts ticking and things move very quickly-this is why the patient is brought as close to the OR as possible before they actually pass.
As soon as the patient passed away, the doctor pronounced the time of death, then the patient was immediately taken to the operating room where the surgery was initiated. In addition to the surgeon there were two surgical assistants (not really sure what their titles were), two operating room nurses-one to chart and one that was scrubbed in to help with equipment, one patient care technician who can assist in a variety of ways, and three more members of the transplant team to help prepare the donor organs for transport. There was also still a member of the transplant team upstairs with the patient's family to attend to any of their needs and questions. I am not going to speak about the actual surgery (with one exception) because this email is going to a variety of family members, some of whom may not want any details. If you care to know more regarding the actual procedure I would be happy to talk to you or I'm sure there are a number of resources online. The only thing I will mention about the surgery is that immediately before the surgeon made the cut between the major blood vessel and the heart, he asked everyone in the room to pause and observe a 5-second moment of silence on behalf of the patient, their life, and the good that they were doing by being an organ donor.
There are a number of factors considered when determining who will actually receive the donated organs. Generally speaking organ donation is first considered geographically (assuming there is a match with blood type, antibodies, etc.) Organs are donated locally, then regionally,then nationally with some exceptions made to recipients who are either kids,difficult matches, or living previous donors (for example, if a person had donated one of their two kidneys and then their remaining kidney failed, it is my understanding they are moved up to some extent.) Of course the whole purpose of sharing this story is to have you consider if you would like to be an organ donor. If you would like to, or would like to at least know more about it, the time to act is now, because we never know what lies ahead of us.
And here's a point I cannot emphasize enough-something I've experienced first-hand from my days in theER...whatever you decide, PLEASE make your end of life wishes known to your closest family members! This is very important to do now-when you are healthy, because this is not an easy topic to discuss at any point for most people, and the situation gets much more difficult during times of acute medical conditions and the emotional stress that comes with it. I truly am not trying to 'make' you an organ donor, but I would ask these two things:
Think about it, then make your intentions known.
And if you would like to be an organ donor, take action-make the declaration on your driver's license, and you can visit the Donate Life website for more information
The medical care you receive is NOT affected by your donor status (some people mistakenly assume if they are a donor, there may be an instance in which something might not be done for you). These and other questions are answered in the frequently asked questions section:
The entire process was sad, but beautiful. It was sad what had happened to this gentleman. At this point, nothing anyone could do was going to change his outcome. It was beautiful to think about the reaction that other patients and their family members would have when they received word that an organ transplant was now a possibility.
Love & Prayers