As part of Organ Donation Week, specialist nurse, Jacqueline Newby, lets us know more about her role and the importance of raising awareness around organ donation
I have been a specialist nurse in organ donation for twelve years and my job is to facilitate organ donation across the Northern region. So, when a unit makes a referral I take some details and if the patient is suitable, I attend the unit and discuss donation options with the family. If they choose to donate, I gather the necessary information to share with transplant centres. Once we have recipients waiting in transplant hospitals to receive organs we organise the retrieval operation. I then oversee retrieval surgery and care for the patient donating, and my last duty is to inform the family how their loved one has helped others after their death.
I had worked in the Intensive Care Unit for many years and death always felt so final, until I looked after a patient who donated after their death. This experience showed me how families can feel knowing that their loved one is helping others after their death. It can be a beginning for a recipient and their family, whose lives are transformed through transplant, and playing a part in making this happen is very rewarding.
The contact we have with families is the best part of the job. I remember one family who said a light went on in the darkness when donation was discussed on the night they lost their loved one. Over several years I have met with this family and they feel their loved one live on with others as their donation saved the lives of 4 adults and 1 infant. Knowing this family and seeing their pride of the life-saving organ donor they became, is so humbling. Being involved with donor families is most rewarding part of my job.
COVID has greatly reduced how many people are able to donate organs and tissue, as it is not safe to take organs from people with an active COVID infection. This means the number of people donating has fallen and as a result the waiting lists have increased. Every donor is precious, as one person could go on to help 9 people through life saving transplants, and if they donate tissue they could go on to help another 50 people. Not being able to offer this to so many families who have lost someone over the last year has been difficult.
As donation numbers fell I was re-deployed to the critical care unit during the first wave of COVID. I then joined the nurse bank so I could be more of more help, and while being a part of the response to the pandemic has been physically and mentally tough, I have also seen the cooperation between hospitals in our region and I have seen how Northumbria staff have responded to the unprecedented demand, and I am so proud to have been a part of this.
A large part of our job is talking with families and COVID has really changed how we interact with them now. Having difficult conversations while in PPE, wearing masks, and from a distance when you just want to hold someone’s hand, has been the biggest challenge.
It’s so important to raise awareness as we want everyone to make their own decisions about donation. The law changed in 2020, and people are considered to want donation if they haven’t registered an objection. That said, we will always discuss this with families to find out exactly what the last decision of the person was if people haven’t discussed this with their loved ones, it makes things less certain at a difficult time. I would urge everyone to have a donation discussion with their nearest and dearest, so if the worst does happen they know what you would want to do.