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Pickering nurse says medical professionals need to be educated about organ donation

A Letter To The Editor:

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Patty, and I am ashamed to say that I am part of the reason Canada has such low percentages in the organ donation department. I have been in the medical profession, as a registered nurse, since the early 1970's. My present position (one of the busiest emergency departments in the country), has been my home for most of my career, but I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to work in various settings across Canada, including the Northwest Territories.

The very sad fact is that I have never worked in a setting that actually has a policy, or even a habit, of either approaching the family regarding donation, or remembering to look for a card in the wallet. I have never worked in a neurological ICU, and I realize that is where most organ donation originate, however, only recently I learned that tissue, bone, and all eyes are retrievable after the fact. I have polled doctors and nurses and found that I am not alone in my lack of thought about organ donation at the time of a patient's death.

Some say they would be uncomfortable in the approach. Others give no reason, they just haven't done it. My feeling is this: were it to be policy, a mandatory procedure, to either approach the family, or call a 24 hour hotline to have suitability determined, the statistics would soon change. Public awareness regarding card signing is great, although card signing is not the only problem. Public awareness that the question will come up at the time of death would be necessary though. Just as a percentage of medical people feel uncomfortable in the approach, a percentage of families would feel uncomfortable in being approached. If it were widely advertised that this would be the new Canadian policy, it would then not be an unexpected topic. What is needed now, is education in the medical community, as well as mandatory suitability determination. It truly is my feeling that this is the only way the statistics will change.

I recently became passionate about this subject, when my aunt died this past winter. Her sons were able to donate just about everything she had because she was a relatively young, totally healthy woman. When I saw how comforted my cousins were that people would benefit from their mom's death, my feelings about an uncomfortable approach changed.

I recently heard Diane Craig speaking on the radio about a national organ donor awareness campaign called Sandrine's Gift of Life (www.sandrinesgift.com). It was named after her 11-year-old daughter who died in a school bus accident. Her message is simple: "Talk to your family. Someone's life depends on it." I would add another line to that very important message. "Medical personnel, learn more about organ donation. You could save even more lives."

Patricia Rowe RN ENC (c)
Pickering, Ontario

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