It’s never any easy question to ask, but it’s one of the many responsibilities a nurse holds when a patient nears the end of his or her life – does the family want to donate their loved one’s organs and/or tissues?
“It’s a federal regulation that a specially trained, designated donation requestor has to approach the family to give them that option,” said Tammie Rogers, Nursing Faculty member at the Rasmussen College Wausau campus. “Many of those requestors are nurses, as well as other hospital staff members involved in supporting patients' families, such as social workers and chaplains.”
As a former Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse, Rogers has asked that question many times. It’s the reason she says she’s become an advocate for both organ donation and donor registration.
“It’s difficult because we’re talking about their loved one at the end of his or her life,” said Rogers. “We try to help the family make the best decision possible for their loved one, but there is a better time to make that decision – by the patients themselves, right now.”
Rogers is talking about YesIWillWisconsin.org, Wisconsin’s donor registration website that launched March 2010. By registering online, a person is entering a legally binding decision that can’t be overruled later by family or next of kin. Essentially, people are legally authorizing that their organs and tissues be donated upon their death. Also, donors are now able to register at their local Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Many people misunderstand the organ donation symbol (an orange donor dot) on a driver’s license,” said Rogers. “Until the state law changed in April 2010, the donor dot just indicated a person’s intent to donate, but it wasn't legally binding until the new law came into effect. That’s why it’s so important to get the message out about the laws surrounding organ donation, so people can make the best decision for themselves now and make sure that they are properly registered to ensure their decision will be acted upon.”
Rogers went on to say it’s easier on the family if they don’t have to make that crucial decision in the end. A nurse will simply let the family know the patient registered to be an organ donor and his or her decision will be carried out if there are any organs or tissues that are suitable for transplant at the time of death.
“First and foremost, a nurse is a patient advocate, so it’s their responsibility to ensure the patient’s decisions are being respected,” said Rogers.
Nationwide, approximately 19 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant. Currently, there are 117,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list. In Wisconsin, there are more than 2,000 people waiting.
To learn more about organ donation and to register to become a donor in Wisconsin, please visit the Yes I Will, Wisconsin website. If you live in another state, visit Donate Life for details on how to register where you live.
The Rasmussen College Wausau campus is also hosting an organ donation registration event on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 from 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Guests will hear from both donor families and recipients about the organ donation process, as well as staff from both the University of Wisconsin Organ Donation program and American Tissue Services Foundation. The event takes place in Room 101 and is free and open to the public. The campus is located at 1101 Westwood Drive, Wausau, WI 54401.