Lynne Malley, a Specialist Nurse based in Dundee, shares her experience in talking to families about organ donation.
I’ve worked as a Specialist Nurse for Organ Donation for three years now. My job is to guide acutely bereaved families through the organ donation process. As you might imagine, clear conversations and good communication are so important in the organ donation process. Talking is such a big part of my job.
Firstly, I’ll discuss the patient’s situation with clinical colleagues. We don’t consider organ donation until everyone accepts that no more can be done to save the patient’s life. Of course, the patient’s family are kept informed of the situation throughout.
When the appropriate time comes, there are two main responses to us nurses broaching the subject of organ donation, and the way I approach the family depends firstly on whether the patient is on the NHS Organ Donor Register (ODR). If someone isn’t on the ODR we will discuss the organs that their loved one could potentially donate, which naturally differs each time, and the benefits to recipients. We’ll ask what kind of person they were, whether they have ever mentioned organ donation and how the family feel about it.
Obviously, families need time to think everything through, so I’ll give them some space. I’ll explain that we can make some keepsakes for them such as a lock of hair or some hand prints. We understand it’s a hugely emotional time for families and that everyone experiences grief differently.
Most of the time when families don’t agree to organ donation, it is because they haven’t discussed their wishes before so they don’t feel comfortable agreeing to it. We know that nobody ever wants to face this situation, though it’s made so much easier if families have discussed their decision. Some families have subsequently told us they regret declining the option of organ donation.
When families have discussed organ donation and made their decision known, my experience is that they often feel relief that this important decision has been made for them and are comforted to know they can support their loved one’s end of life decisions.
I would urge everyone this Organ Donation Week to think about your organ donation decision and to share it with your families. We know that more transplants are made possible when people have discussed their organ donation decision. Words save lives; they really do.
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