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Giving patients a second chance at life

08/02/2019

(L to R) VGH Solid Organ Transplant Unit PCC Eva Hargraves, unit assistant Lisa Duck, registered nurse Joy Ponio, PSM Kulwinder Sangha and social worker Terri Harapnuk.

2018 was another record-breaking year in B.C. as 502 people received life-saving organ donations. VCH staff and physicians continued to lead the province, performing 272 organ transplants! VGH also celebrated the 50th anniversary of B.C.'s first transplant.

In addition to performing 272 transplant surgeries (including 76 liver, 50 double lung and 133 kidney) VGH had 29 organ donors; Lions Gate Hospital had three donors and Richmond Hospital (RH) had one .

A second chance at life

When patients arrive for surgery, they are very ill—some critically so—and others have spent months or years waiting for the perfect match. After their surgery (and sometimes a few days in the ICU), patients move to the VGH Solid Organ Transplant Unit (SOTU) to begin their recovery.

“It's difficult for patients knowing that someone often died in order for them to live," says SOTU social worker Terri Harapnuk. “But I share my experience from the ICU and we talk about how though families are devastated, realizing that their loved one can save others' lives can be a very powerful way to give their death meaning."

“It's giving someone a second chance at life" adds Eva, SOTU patient care coordinator.

The journey doesn't end when patients leave hospital; they continue to receive follow-up care VGH's Outpatient Transplant Clinic for the rest of their lives and often they come back to share their gratitude with the team.

“You barely recognize some of them when they come back," says SOTU registered nurse Joy Ponio. “They were so sick before and had been in hospital for so long and now they look so well!"

“They're enjoying their lives again," adds the unit's patient services manager Kulwinder Sangha. “They're often back to work, spending more time with their families and doing things they couldn't do before."

Richmond celebrates the gift of life

The impact of Richmond's organ donation case in 2018 was felt across many teams throughout the hospital—from the ICU and the OR, to Pharmacy and Physicians.

Kiran Dhanwant, a social worker in the Richmond Intensive Care and High Acuity Unit worked closely with the donor family and BC Transplant throughout the process.

“We were able to help provide the family with a bit of a silver lining," she says, “that in the midst of this tragedy, their loved one was able to give the gift of life to five people. It was a privilege to support them through that journey."

This was the first organ donor case for many ICU team members—making it difficult and emotional for everyone involved. But Kiran says the team did a great job working together to support one another as well as the family.

“There was a lot of coordination and we worked really closely together to support each other however we could. It was so powerful to see it all come together."

In the OR, Roswitha Goertzen, who has now participated in three organ retrievals for transplant, says that the whole process was very respectful.

“I really appreciated the minute of silence and gratitude we had for the donor and their family. It's such a sad time, but thinking about the positive outcomes that come from the sadness helps turn it into a positive experience."

Are you registered?

Despite a record year, there are 669 people waiting for an organ transplant in BC, and the need remains strong. Register your decision about organ donation today, and share your wishes with your family. For more information, visit www.transplant.bc.ca. You can see the full year of BC  Transplant stats on their website​.

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