Organ Donation Week – Leave Them Certain

Today’s guest blog is from Dr Ian Thomas from Southmead Hospital, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Clinical Lead for Organ Donation in the South West of England.

Organ donation is remarkable in many ways. It is, perhaps, the ultimate gift that one human being can provide to another and the transforming effect an organ transplant can have on the lives of recipients and their families is nothing short of incredible. It literally can, provide new life, hope and joy. Yet without organ donors, no transplantation programme can work.

Organ Donation Week

This week marks national Organ Donation week and as we remember all our patients who made the selfless choice to become organ donors, we also remember their families who, in the very darkest of moments, were able to support their relative’s choice.

I regularly speak to the relatives of patients who became organ donors and the overwhelming sense of pride they feel in the fact their relative chose to help others is clear. Fi joined the Organ Donation register at 14 years old, after a talk at school. The below video recounts her family’s journey, after he tragic death in 2016.

Both locally and nationally, demand for organs for transplantation still outstrips supply and many patients on transplant waiting lists will sadly die. It is therefore crucial that strategies are implemented to promote and facilitate organ donation at a personal, institutional and societal level.

It’s Your Choice: Leave Them Certain

Importantly, whether or not to become and organ and/or tissue donor is your choice. If there is one thing I would encourage you to do this week it is to let your relatives or those closest to you know what your choice is. Whether you would or would not wish to be considered as an organ donor. Communicating this choice, either verbally or by registration on the Organ Donor Register will ensure that your choice is known and respected and will ease the emotional burden on families that uncertainty brings if you are ever in a position where organ donation can be considered. The recent change in law to a system of deemed consent does not alter the fact that any decision about whether you wish to be considered as an organ donor remains your choice. The change simply means that unless you have communicated a decision not to become an organ donor there will be an presumption that you have no objection.

The Bristol Picture: Organ Donation Week

Here in Bristol, both North Bristol NHS Trust and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust have dedicated teams of specialist nurses in organ donation whose role is to support potential donor families whilst exploring individual patient views regarding donation. Working alongside doctors, nurses and allied health professionals within the intensive care units, between April 2020 and March 2021 they were able to support 42 patients to become organ donors across our city’s hospitals despite the incredible challenges and pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic. This resulted in 93 patients receiving a life changing or life-saving transplant and demonstrates the city wide support that organ donation has here in Bristol. Yet we never lose sight of the human story behind every single patient who became an organ donor.

We recognise the pain and loss that those surviving relatives may endure and support for them continues after their bereavement. Both our hospitals have artwork installations dedicated to those patients who became organ donors acting as a very public and permanent demonstration of the selfless choice they made. This is a picture of Jack Baker, a staff nurse on the Intensive Care Unit at Southmead Hospital who died whilst cycling home from work in 2020. Put together by his family, it hangs in the public atrium at Southmead Hospital alongside similar pictures of other patients. We should recognise and celebrate the gift that each of these patients made.

Our Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Communities

Yet more work is needed to allow us to build on these figures. We know that those with a Black or Asian background are more likely to require an organ transplant but are less likely to have opted in to becoming an organ donor, so meaning there are less suitable donors for those in greatest need. Many colleagues are actively working with all communities across our city to provide information and challenge myths to ensure that your choice around organ donation is made from as fully an informed position as possible.

So, as we enter organ donation week, we pause and reflect on those patients who made the choice to become organ donors, we remember their relatives and recognise the life changing and life saving act that an organ transplant has had on the transplant recipient. So please, have that conversation, make your choice known to your relatives and/or register it via the Organ Donation Register. But above all, make it known and ‘leave them certain’ – and help share our message with your friends online.