Nursing is not just a job — it’s a calling.
Lifesharing nurses have a unique mission. They comfort grieving families and make sure their loved ones live on — through the gift of organ donation.
“There’s nothing else like it in the nursing community,” said Lifesharing Executive Director Lisa Stocks. “It’s not just a shift that you work — it’s a lifestyle.”
Lifesharing nurses may find themselves driving across the desert in the middle of the night to hold a family’s hand. They can be called to any hospital in San Diego or Imperial Counties, as they cover an area of more than 8,000 square miles. Lifesharing nurses are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“About 20 people die everyday, waiting for an organ. It is up to me to wake up everyday and try to make sure they get transplanted,” said Lifesharing nurse Charles Wainaina.
Like many Lifesharing nurses, Wainaina started out in a different field of nursing. He became interested in organ donation after one of his favorite patients gave the gift of life. For the last 3 years, Charles has worked as an organ procurement coordinator at Lifesharing, where he has seen lives transformed.
“It’s a very rewarding thing to be here,” he said. Wainaina has spearheaded several projects that helped Lifesharing increase the number of organs transplanted and save more lives. For his efforts, Wainaina was awarded Lifesharing’s Nurse of the Year Award in 2018.
Wainaina and his nursing colleagues play a big role in the nation’s organ donation system. Lifesharing nurses are the linchpin between donors in the San Diego area and the 100,000+ patients on the transplant waiting list. Their job is to give donor families comfort and care — and give transplant recipients a second chance.
Lifesharing Clinical Services Director Jeff Trageser is mindful of the lengthy waiting list. A registered nurse for more than 20 years, Trageser approaches every task the same way — “I always imagine there’s 115,000 people behind me waiting for a transplant.”
Trageser says organ donation is a “beautiful thing” for families who have lost a loved one. “We’re able to give them something – a silver lining to their loss,” he said. Organ donation allows people to live on; the end of one life is the beginning of another.
It’s an emotional circle of life, which Lifesharing nurses witness everyday. After a donor dies, a team of Lifesharing staffers forms a procession to escort the donor to the operating room. Before the surgeons recover the organs, Lifesharing staffers hold a moment of silence and read a tribute to the donor. It’s a special moment where everyone in the operating room pauses for reflection.
Nurse Kristy Kusler recalls reading a tribute that was written on the back of a photograph. As she held up the picture to read the family’s words, everyone in the operating room could see the donor’s face. “It was very emotional — it was a challenge to get through,” she said.
Although Lifesharing nurses deal with death and sadness everyday, they’re also offering families hope. “Donation is the one good thing that can come out of this,” Kusler explained. She recently got a new perspective on the job when a family member — who was “literally on his death bed” — received a new liver. The transplant has allowed him to spend more time with his two young children.
Lifesharing nurses appreciate the gifts their donors give and consider themselves fortunate to play a role in the process. “I can’t imagine doing anything else — what else has this much meaning?” said Trageser.
Executive Director Lisa Stocks has been a nurse since 1987. A former organ procurement coordinator herself, she says Lifesharing nurses “put their entire self” into taking care of donor families and finding the perfect match for organs.
“It takes a really special person to be a nurse,” she said. “The nurses at Lifesharing are the best, strongest, smartest group of nurses that I’ve ever worked with.”