Jennifer Whitmore, nurse and organ donation champion (right), reviews a patient case with nurse Katie Scranton in CCU/MICU. For the past year, Whitmore has served as a donor champion, acting as a bridge between caregivers, families, chaplains and Mid-America Transplant Services.
Jennifer Whitmore was just out of orientation as a critical care nurse at Cox South when her manager approached her about representing the CCU/MICU as a donation champion.
Jennifer learned that the newly formed Donation Champion program at the hospital is designed to place a select group of nurses in critical care units and the emergency department to assist families and support fellow nurses through the organ and tissue donation process.
Jennifer welcomed the opportunity to serve her patients, their families, and her co-workers in this way, having had educational experience in palliative care as a student, and personal experience in the dying process as a 17-year-old who watched her mother slowly lose her battle with cancer.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for comfort care with families and patients just because it’s a hard time,” says Whitmore. “Especially working in the ICU, we have patients who just aren’t going to make it. I think it’s very important, when nothing we could do would change the outcome, that we let families understand that choosing not to pursue aggressive medical treatment is OK. It’s OK to say enough is enough and let your loved one be comfortable and go. I’ve always had that in me, even as a new nurse. It’s just something that I’m passionate about.”
Jennifer and the other donor champions are part of a team at Cox South that supports families through decisions about organ and tissue donation including nurses, physicians, Pastoral Care chaplains and Mid-America Transplant Services (MTS), one of 58 federally designated organizations in the U.S. that facilitate and coordinate the organ and tissue donation process.
“All of this starts with the donation champions and unit nurses with that first call they make to get the process going,” says Marjorie Bryan, MTS donor program specialist. “These champions are awesome. We have a great group of individuals and I’m excited about where this program is headed.”
The Donation Champion program is in its first year at Cox South and was created by the hospital’s Donation Council to increase donation awareness, and improve communication among the hospital team as well as improve the knowledge base of people who are educated about the purpose and the process of donation.
Champions serve as a bridge between nurses caring for the patient and chaplains and MTS, who are the hospital’s designated organ and tissue requestors.
“We help nurses recognize when it might be time to talk to the family and to get a chaplain involved,” says Whitmore. “In the ICU, we do withdrawal of treatment and it’s appropriate in those cases to contact the chaplain and MTS. Even when a loss of life is inevitable, through donation, we may be able to save several lives.”
Champions receive a four-hour training and are asked to attend quarterly council meetings to hear updates from MTS and to discuss ways to improve care.
“The donation champion program has helped to bring a greater understanding and awareness of the team approach in donation,” says Peggy Wobbema, coordinator of the council and Cox South chaplain.
“The key is a greater awareness of the donor potential coupled with better emotional and spiritual care of the families through the end-of-life process. Family support is key whether the patient can be a donor or not. Our goal is excellent family care and offering the potential for organ and tissue donation is part of that.”
Since the donation champion program began, Bryan says the calls received on possible organ donors are up more than 50 percent over last year and the number of families served by organ donation has doubled from the same time last year.
Whitmore recently cared for a patient who eventually became an organ donor. She admits that experience and working as a donation champion has dispelled some misperceptions she had about MTS.
“MTS came in and they were wonderful, talking to the family about how the process worked, and about how everything was going to be from that point on. They were very comforting toward the family and toward me as well. If I had a question they would answer it.”
Whitmore is glad she decided to become a donation champion. She continues to be passionate about caring for patients and families, and now has become an advocate for donation.
“I’ve seen the process of DCD (Donation after Cardiac Death),” says Whitmore. “It was kind of a shock to see the process in the operating room, but in my mind I had to realize the surgeons who are taking the patient’s organs are taking them back to other patients. They are no longer thinking about my patient who had died, they are thinking about the patients waiting, whose pagers have gone off, who are at other hospitals waiting for an organ to come so that they can have a better life. It’s kind of a miraculous thing to think about – we’ve lost one life. How many can be saved?”