Nebraska Organ Recovery System Aims to Save More Lives in 2014
In January, we shared with you the exciting growth our Solid Organ Transplant Program experienced in 2013, performing 172 kidney transplants and 111 liver transplants, up from previous years.
These transplants would not be possible without the individuals and families who make the decision to become an organ donor. One reason for our growth in transplants is that more people than ever made that selfless decision in 2013. Nebraska Organ Recovery System (NORS) facilitated 75 organ donors last year, well above its average of 40. From those 75 donors, NORS successfully allocated 254 organs for transplantation, many of which were transplanted right here at The Nebraska Medical Center. The increase is a result of changes made within NORS, but also a culture shift among Nebraskans, says Kyle Herber, NORS executive director. "We've grown as an organization," he says, which includes a renewed focus on spreading the message of organ donation.
NORS is a not-for-profit agency that coordinates the recovery and distribution of organs for Nebraska and Pottawattamie County, Iowa. This past year, they created three new family support coordinator positions. They are specialists who are trained in acute bereavement, Herber explains. They are on call for 24-hour shifts. If they are notified by a hospital of an imminent death during their shift, they travel to that hospital in Nebraska.
"These coordinators are there to guide families through the grieving process," Herber says. The coordinators were a major factor in the growth NORS experienced this past year. Previously, only one nurse coordinator was tasked with covering the state. "It was too much. We were not providing the care the donor families needed," he says.
The coordinators introduce themselves to the family as a support person, offering to help with whatever the family may need. "They are there to help. Organ donation is never discussed until the family is ready," says Tom Neal, NORS public relations coordinator.
If the families authorize organ donation, the coordinators stay in touch for 13 months, often sharing letters from those who received their loved ones' organs, with information on who they are and what they enjoy doing.
Kyle Dorn is one of six hospital liaisons for NORS. He has an office here in Kiewit Tower and rounds with our Critical Care nurses every afternoon. The life-saving opportunity of organ donation is the reason Dorn loves his job, even though it sometimes requires him to talk to families at their most difficult time.
These family support coordinators are an additional resource to NORS' six hospital liaisons that cover all 99 hospitals in Nebraska. One is officed here in Kiewit Tower, Kyle Dorn, who supports our hospital and Alegent Creighton Health. Dorn is a registered nurse, who previously worked as an ICU nurse at Creighton. He's been with NORS for four years now, three in his current role. Dorn typically spends his mornings rounding at Creighton and his afternoons rounding here in 800, 850 and AICU. If a patient's status is declining, Dorn will visit the patient's care team and if warranted, contact one of the family support coordinators. The coordinator will then introduce themselves to the family and discuss the possibility of organ donation. In some cases, Dorn is the one who talks to the family. It is difficult, but the motivation to save another person's life provides Dorn the courage to have the conversation. "If you stop and think that one patient can save eight lives, you just go and do it."
Even though Dorn says he loves his job, these conversations have not gotten easier over the years. "I've cried with them," he says. "It's even harder now that I have children. The pediatric cases are by far the hardest."
Dorn has been in the OR during an organ recovery. "When you see first-hand the recovery of a heart and you know that heart is going to save someone else's life – it's incredible."
In Nebraska, more than 703,000 people are registered as organ donors. In November, the state surpassed 700,000 – a major milestone. "We've set a goal for 2014 to add 18,000 more people to the donor registry list," says Neal. They hope to do that through marketing efforts like radio and TV, but also outreach. Neal travels to high schools across the state, educating sophomores through seniors about organ donation. Currently, 121,000 people are on the waiting list for organs nationally. Of those, 18 to 20 die each day waiting. Every 10 minutes someone is added to the waiting list and every 19 minutes an organ transplant is performed in the U.S. "Without donors and their families making this final gift, we wouldn't be able to do what we do," says Neal.