A week in the life of a Donation Specialist Nursing Coordinator

This week is DonateLife Week - a national campaign that encourages as many Australians as possible to register as organ and tissue donors.

Austin Health's Donation Specialist Nursing Coordinators (DSNC), Ciara McGuigan and Clare Healy, work to support families considering organ and tissue donation when they have to say goodbye to their loved ones in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

To help us shine a light on the importance of organ and tissue donation, Clare tells us about a week for her in "the most rewarding and satisfying job that I have ever had".

I start the week feeling refreshed after a weekend spent with family. I head to the ICU to touch base with the team and check whether we have any current donation cases or families that need extra support and information on donation. Back in the office, I audit every death in the ICU and Emergency Department over the past few days and ensure each family has been given the opportunity to consider organ donation as part of their loved one's end of life care.   

The family of a man in the ICU have chosen to honour his wish to donate his organs and help save the lives of complete strangers. He was registered on the Australian Organ Donor Register, but we also need to seek permission from families. The ICU team and I spend time with the family, ensuring that they understand what will happen and have the chance to say goodbye. The family tells me that being able to save other people's lives gives them some sense of comfort amid the tragedy. I collect details from the family and the hospital about the patient's past medical history and it takes most of the night to collate vital information that needs to be shared with the transplant units. We try to find the best possible match to ensure the best outcomes for donor organs and the recipients. I check the urgent listings for Australia and New Zealand and because there is no one urgently in need of an organ I contact the local transplant unit. We cross match the donor blood with multiple recipients and one is very sick - it's a perfect match. I contact the operating theatre and request a time for the donation to take place. The recipient is contacted and starts to prepare for their surgery. For organ transplants to be successful, the coordination process needs to happen quickly.

Ciara has come in very early for the donation operation. I hand over all the information and she continues to care for the patient until the end. Following the organ donation surgery, Ciara contacts the donor's family to let them know donation has been successful, and how many people they have been able to help. This phone call is so important to the donor families; they are often together, waiting to hear news which brings them comfort on this day and in the future. The phone call is also important for Ciara; it's a privilege to meet and work with these families who in the face of tragedy are strong enough to think of others. We always say thank you.

I talk with Ciara about contact information for the donor's family. She will contact them regularly and is able to provide ongoing bereavement support for these families following the donation.  

I spend time calling transplant units to get updates on the recipients. I need this information to send in the donation outcome letter to the donor family.

This is a small window into the role of a Donation Specialist Nursing Coordinator. We are just one part of the organ donation and transplantation process but the most satisfying part of our job is watching families decide they are brave enough to say yes when we must ask for their help.

DonateLife Week 2019 runs from 28 July to 4 August.

It's take less than a minute to join the Australian Organ Donor Register or you can go to www.donatelife.gov.au for more information.

Even if you are already a registered donor, then please make sure your family know your wishes so that they can help you change someone else's life.