LifeChoice recognizes Day Kimball Hospital

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Oct. 14, 2013

Day Kimball Hospital recently received a “Summit Award” from LifeChoice Donor Services. The award recognized DKH for “leadership, commitment and dedication to saving lives every day,” which resulted in a 50-percent tissue conversion rate for 2012. DKH’s rate is 13 percent higher than the LifeChoice average. That difference represents lives saved or improved with transplants.

Those lives were saved in one of two ways: either people registered as organ donors, or families faced with the death of loved ones agreed to donate their organs. These are difficult decisions to make. They are also crucial ones. According to federal statistics, 120,201 people are waiting for tissue and organ transplants in the U.S. Eighteen people die daily for lack of available organs. Just one organ donor can save up to eight lives.

DKH Senior Vice President, COO and CNO Donald St. Onge said the effort to educate people about the need for organ donation is crucial. Educating the public and bringing about a level of awareness of the need for tissue and organ donation is a team effort, he said. “There may be a time in your life where difficult decisions need to be made,” he said. “The more ways you communicate that, be it an advanced directive, living will or donor sticker on your license, the more likely people will know what you want.”

St. Onge has made sure his family knows his desire to be a donor. “My wife knows,” he said. “My children know. You hope that if, God forbid, something happens and I have a chance to help someone out, they understand how important that is to me.”

LifeChoice Director of Education and Hospital Services Chas MacKenzie said public education is a continual challenge. “There are definitely myths and misconceptions out there,” he said. “We commonly hear, ‘If I have a heart on my driver’s license, the hospital won’t do everything they can to save my life.’ The fact is a hospital has no idea you are a donor. Their job is to save the life of everyone who comes through that door.”

Federal law requires hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funds to report the death or imminent death of a patient. That notification sets in motion the involvement of organ procurement organizations like LifeChoice. It’s the job of OPO staff to have the conversations with family members about donor possibilities.

“With a registered donor, we tell the family that we’re there to fulfill their loved one’s wishes,” MacKenzie said. “When we don’t know a donor’s wishes, we ask for the family’s permission. It’s a wonderful opportunity to save others.”

All medical information comes from hospital physicians. A grave prognosis or the declaration of death is in the hospital realm, not the OPO realm. It used to be that hospital nurses were the designated requesters. “That wasn’t good system-wide,” said John O’Keefe, DKH vice president of patient services. “We alert the family that we are making a referral to LifeChoice. We answer any questions we can, but we don’t ask the family to proceed with organ or tissue procurement. It's better that LifeChoice have that conversation with the family.”

The OPO is not involved in the declaration of death, said MacKenzie. But LifeChoice does ask hospitals to notify them in advance of doing brain death exams. That allows them the chance to be part of the end-of-life conversation with the family. “If we don’t have a record for a patient, we must have authorization from the family to go forward,” he said.

“By not making a decision, you’re putting the burden on the family at a time when they’re struggling with the loss of a loved one,” MacKenzie said. “It’s important to discuss it with your family.”

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