"It is part of our role in intensive care to help facilitate organ donation."
All potential organ donors will be on a ventilator (breathing machine) in an Intensive Care Unit. This opportunity is very rare, around one percent of all deaths happen this way. Therefore, we feel a big responsibility to get the process right when it arises.
It is important to acknowledge that opportunities for organ donation occur during an extremely traumatic time for the donor families involved. Generally, a sudden devastating brain injury has occurred and families are under immense stress. Our role is to guide them through this period, care for their loved one to provide a dignified death, and explore whether organ donation is to be part of that care.
The decision to donate is challenging because of this context and requires discussion between the family and our trained staff. Families who have had a conversation about donation amongst themselves previously often find it easier to engage in the discussion at such a stressful time.
After we have identified the possibility of donation, Organ Donation New Zealand (ODNZ) is contacted for advice and support. Once it is clear that this opportunity exists and the patient cannot survive, a family meeting is held to explain this and to explore the possibility of donation with the family.
Such a discussion may take more than one meeting and it is our job to provide all the information the family require in order to make the best decision for them.
When families decide to pursue donation, we work with ODNZ to provide as smooth a process as possible. It may take several hours to coordinate all the people and resources required for donation to occur.
In New Zealand, it is possible to donate your heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, skin, eyes and heart valves and there is the potential for multiple lives to be changed with donation. However, although we do our best, not all organs can always be donated and the ODNZ Donor Coordinators work very hard to ensure the best possible outcome.
ODNZ Donor Coordinators do a great job updating families afterwards as to how many people have benefitted from this gift. This can be an enduring positive for families to take away from such a difficult time.
Overall, organ donation is an exhausting but very rewarding part of the Intensive Care. From a tragedy, we are able to provide the opportunity for families to take away the positive experience of having helped others. It is a privilege to work in such a field.
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