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Graham Denholm

Things you only know if you work in organ donation

Cassidy Knowlton

... according to Kristen Willmott, donation specialist nursing coordinator. 

What a donation specialist nursing coordinator does

"It’s a pretty long job title, isn’t it? A DSNC facilitates all aspects of organ donation. It’s a unique job. I am in a really privileged position to meet with those families who are losing or have lost their loved one. I spend time getting to know them and listen to what the person was like. Then I help them come to a decision about organ donation that aligns best with their values and beliefs, whether that be a yes or a no. I give the families accurate information and break down myths about organ donation. Families are always blown away about how rare donation is. If a family says yes to donation, we help facilitate the wishes of their loved one."

You shouldn’t make immutable evening plans

"There is no typical day in this job. You could start the morning off with meetings and emails, and by the afternoon you could be in a hospital anywhere in the state of Victoria facilitating organ donation. One day I was halfway through my work day, when I got a call to go to Mildura. My colleague and I didn’t get home until the next day. It can be unpredictable like that at times. It’s a very dynamic job."

Why most people support donation, but few become donors

"I think one of the biggest barriers is people not registering their wish on the Australian Organ Donor Registry and not having the conversation with their friends and family. Eighty per cent of Australians are pro donation. However, only 30 per cent of the Australian population have registered their decision. Consent rates are double when the patient has registered their wish to donate. The difference is huge. 

"I also think organ donation can be misunderstood. There are a lot of myths out there about donation that are just not true. Some myths include being too old, sexual orientation, religion, general health, the hospital will not try save them if they are a donor. It is best not to exclude yourself based on misinformation and just register your wish and let your loved ones know."

The rewards of this job are pretty incredible

"Prior to this role, I remember nursing a young girl in ICU with cystic fibrosis who was urgently awaiting a lifesaving lung transplant. We thought that she may die that night, but then a lung transplant became available. I saw her a couple of months later and almost didn’t recognise her. She looked well! She nearly died that night and would have without that transplant. One poor family out there had lost someone and given the gift of life not knowing who they were saving that night. It’s incredible to see what people are capable of." 

Most people who die are not able to be organ donors

"Not everyone who dies can donate their organs. Only one to two per cent of Australians who die each year actually die in a way to be able to explore the possibility of organ donation. To be able to potentially donate organs, the patient needs to die in hospital, and in particular in the intensive care unit or in the emergency department and usually connected to a ventilator. This is why organ donation is so rare. 

"However, unlike organ donation, eye and tissue donation is possible up to 24 hours after death. People can help restore vision and help transform the lives of many more people, like burns victims, through the gift of eye and tissue donation."

To learn more about (and register to) the Australian Organ Donor Registry, head here.

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