Lifesharing plays a critical role in the organ donation process in San Diego and Imperial Counties. We carry out the final wishes of donors and their families by finding the best possible match for each organ. We guide families through the process and provide support every step of the way.
This is how Lifesharing saves lives:
1. Working with local hospitals
Organ donation is only possible if a patient dies in a hospital. Lifesharing maintains excellent relationships with local hospitals – we work together to save lives. Hospitals are required to notify Lifesharing when a patient has died, or death is imminent. Our medical staff will travel to the medical facility to review the patient’s medical history, and see if donation is a possibility.
2. Giving families the opportunity to create a lasting legacy through organ donation
Statistically, less than 1% of the population will die in a way that allows for organ donation. But in rare cases, such as brain death, it may be possible. When a deceased patient is a candidate for organ donation, Lifesharing will initiate a conversation with the patient’s family. We will let them know if their loved one was a registered organ donor, and if not, we will give the family the opportunity to say “yes” to donation. Our compassionate nurses and Family Services Specialists guide families through the entire donation process. Many families are comforted knowing that their loved one helped save lives.
3. Preserving the precious gifts from our donors
Lifesharing nurses work with the hospital to keep the organs healthy until a recipient match can be found. Our nurses and surgical coordinators are skilled at saving organs, even in the most difficult of cases. We will often keep patients on a breathing machine even after they have died, so their organs can still get oxygen. This gives us more time to identify recipients and coordinate the logistics with transplant doctors. The process may take a few days.
4. Finding the best match for each organ
Lifesharing knows that families take great comfort in seeing their loved ones live on – so our nurses work tirelessly to find the best possible match for each organ. They enter the donor’s information (blood type, height and weight) into a national computer database. The database matches organs to potential recipients. The computer system is run by UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing. (UNOS is the nonprofit group that manages the nation’s transplant system for the federal government.)
Once Lifesharing nurses have identified a possible recipient through the database, they will reach out to the patient’s transplant center. Ultimately, it’s up to the patient’s doctor to decide if the organ is right for their patient or not. Lifesharing nurses will continue making calls until a match is found for each suitable organ. Lifesharing will then coordinate a time when all the transplant teams can travel to the donor’s hospital and recover the organs in the operating room. The donor’s family is notified of these plans and told which organs may be transplanted.
5. Giving donors a final tribute, and giving their families a sense of peace
Our donors are heroes, and we honor them as such. Lifesharing team members escort the deceased donor to the operating room in a dignified procession in which the family can take part. It can be a very emotional experience as loved ones say their final goodbyes – which is why our team is there to support the family. Our nurses, surgical coordinators and Family Services Specialists walk alongside the family as the patient’s hospital bed is transported to the operating room. All families receive a Lifesharing Hero Medallion in recognition of their loved one’s selfless gift.
Once the family has said their goodbyes and the deceased donor has been taken to the operating room, Lifesharing holds a moment of silence before the organs are recovered. One of our nurses or coordinators will read a tribute to the donor, written by the family. We do this to honor the donor and give the transplant teams an opportunity to recognize the person who is saving their patient’s life.
The donor’s body is treated with great care and respect during the recovery surgery and the donor family can hold a funeral or burial afterward. An open-casket funeral is possible, too, if the family wishes.
6. Following up with Family Members and Hospital Partners
Lifesharing has a 2-year follow-up program for donor families. We start by sending letters to the donor family after surgery, letting them know which organs and tissues have been recovered and how many lives were saved. We may include general information about the recipients, as allowed under federal privacy laws.
Lifesharing corresponds with families every 6 months, offering resources and information that may help them on their journey. We regularly hold events to honor our donors and we frequently create tributes to them on our social media channels.
Lifesharing also follows up with the hospital doctors and nurses who helped facilitate the organ donation. We send them similar letters notifying them of the outcome of the case – it’s our way of thanking them for all their dedication and hard work. We value our partnerships with local hospitals – without them, we could not save lives.