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A Day in The Life of an Organ Donation Nurse

A Day in The Life of an Organ Donation Nurse

Date of release: 23 September 2021

Latest News: Rebecca Evans

Meet Rebecca Evans, she is a Specialist Nurse Requestor for NHS Blood and Transplant’s Midlands’ Organ Donation (OD) team Service.

Rebecca’s role is to approach families and offer the opportunity of organ donation as part of end-of-life care, which as well as assessing patients’ eligibility to become a donor and coordinating the process of donation. The job covers more than 30 hospitals in the Midlands, meaning Rebecca can be in Wolverhampton one morning, and in Coventry the next.  

Following in her nan’s nursing footsteps, Rebecca knew she wanted to be a nurse at a young age and was delighted to qualify in 2010 after completing her training at university in Birmingham. 

She started her career in emergency services, where she enjoyed the fast-paced environment and variety. When the OD specialist nurse opportunity came up, a colleague highlighted that Becky’s ability to speak to families and organisational skills would make her well suited for the role. 

The 33-year-old explained: “In my final year of university, we spent two weeks at a hospital in Pittsburgh USA that was specialised in transplantation and that peaked my interest early on. When the OD vacancy appeared, I decided I would to go for it; I wanted a new challenge in my career and felt it would be perfect for my skills set. 

Rebecca started as an OD specialist nurse in 2016, but what does her day-to-day role look like? Here is a snippet of a Rebecca’s day…

Once the medical team has determined if a patient is going to survive their critical illness admission or not, Rebecca will attend the hospital / ICU and assess if the patient can be a donor. Unfortunately, only a limited number of patients will be eligible to donate due to strict criteria including the need to be on a ventilator. Although in some cases, even when the patient is ventilated, medical conditions such as cancer or COVID-19 means critical care patients are unable to donate.

For those patients who meet the criteria to become an organ donor, Rebecca works with the families to ensure they are content, understanding and ultimately in support of their loved one becoming a donor. On some occasion’s families feel they cannot support their loved one to be an organ donor even if their loved one had signed the organ donor register or not opted out – here a family can overturn the patient’s decision. Rebecca and her colleagues spend extensive time with families so they are supported to make informed decisions that are right for them and their loved one. 

Rebecca said: “It takes a really strong family to think of other people at such a distressing time. It’s an upsetting conversation to have but I like to remind families that organ donation is a chance for something positive to come out of something so traumatic. Their loved one can possibly save up to eight people through organ donation. Of course, this depends on particular organ suitability. However, families often find it a comfort, that their loved one has saved lives and ultimately has become a hero. I’m here to respect whatever decision they make for their loved one.”

After looking through the patient’s medical history, and blood samples are analysed, Rebecca and her colleagues registers the patient on a system linked to all UK transplant centres. Then the specialist surgeons attend the hospital and carry out the organ retrieval operation. The organs that are to be donated are collected by specialist dedicated ambulances so that the recipients can undergo their transplants in critical time. This is all co-ordinated by Rebecca and her colleagues. 

She added: “You have minutes to retrieve the organ once the organ donor patients heart stops and then a matter of hours to get the organ over to where it needs to be, so every one has to be ready to act quickly.

“There is a real sense of achievement when a donation operation goes successfully. I’ve helped the person to become a hero, although it is of course bittersweet because that person sadly had to die for that to happen. But it’s great to think I’ve helped that person to leave a lasting legacy.”

Rebecca and her colleagues will stay with the organ donor patient and their family until the patient goes to the chapel of rest, and will help to signpost the family to any support or bereavement services they require. Families often request to hear how the recipient is getting on and we help to coordinate those messages in a confidential way. 

“I love the variety of my job, meeting strong families and loved ones is an honour and privilege,” she said.

Working four 12-hour days, her role compliments the ‘embedded’ organ donation specialist nurses at RWT, who educate critical care, A&E and theatre staff on organ donation. Since being in post, New Cross Hospital has improved from a ‘level four’ trust to a ‘level two’ trust. This means that the teams at The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust and NHS Blood and Transplant have worked together to highlight, identify and understand which patients can become organ donors in order to ensure organ donation referrals are made for all patients at the end of their lives in the critical care settings. 

Rebecca explains: “Without the hard work, dedication and understanding from ICU, A&E and theatre staff, organ donation would not be possible, they play a huge role in the journey of organ donor patients. I’m in incredibly proud of them all.”

When asked what she’d say to people who haven’t registered a decision, she replied: “It is so very important to talk to your family about what you would want if you were ever in this situation on critical care. Families can feel a massive sense of worry when making the decision as they’re often unsure what their loved one would actually want, so why not support them by giving them clarity and assurance on your wishes. Whatever your decision is about organ donation, leave your family certain. Organ Donation Week is a great opportunity to start having those discussions. 

“It’s also important to note that when patients are in a critical situation in hospital, the medical team will always do the utmost to make the individual better and support a recovery; organ donation is only brought up and considered when the medical team are certain that a patient won’t survive. It is never brought up until the prognosis is given and the family are able to have that conversation.”

Thank you Rebecca for sharing your story!

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