DFS Team Connects with Organ Donor Families
People react to grief differently, and it is normal for people who are grieving to have a wide mixture of reactions to their grief.
The team at UW Organ and Tissue Donation Donor Family Services (DFS) provide emotional support to donor families during the grieving process. The team's connection with grieving family members begins at the time of donation within the hospital setting, and continues via their after care program. At the hospital, donor families are offered a nicely decorated memory box in which their loved-ones keepsakes can be stored. They are also offered a journal, Donate Life ‘donor' pins and donation awareness bracelets. Throughout the aftercare program, families receive on going emotional support and resources.
As the DFS social worker, Christine Monahan's role includes calling each donor's family following the donation to provide emotional support, answer questions, access needs and provide details about the DFS after care and correspondence program. During the phone call, Christine shares information about each organ that was recovered; including the length of time the recipient was on the waiting list and the name of the state in which they live. She also evaluates what needs the family may have, including those that are more practical -such as life insurance and financial issues-and offers referrals to agencies that can help.
"It's important for a family to know we will continue to care for them as they transition from the hospital back home," says Christine. "They need aftercare, guidance and help navigating after the death of their loved one."
One new way the DFS team helps donor families connect with each other is through their private Facebook page. Donor families are invited to join the group, share their experiences and heal through a shared experience.
"We've seen the benefit of group sessions to help families through their grief experience," says Christine, "so we expanded our reach by building this private, yet easy way for people to help each other. It's a small group now, but we invite donor families to connect with us if they are interested in joining the Facebook group."
Christine and Laura Braund, another member of the Donor Family Services team, also act as communication liaisons between donor families and recipients. While donor families cannot contact recipients directly, they can contact Christine or Laura, who can facilitate communication between the recipient's and the donor family through the DFS correspondence program.
"We encourage recipients to correspond with their donor family," says Christine. "I attend weekly sessions at UW Hospital, and educate recipients about the donor family perspective. It's a great opportunity to remind recipients how important it is for them to thank their donor's family."
The DFS team created a program that provides a starting point for this correspondence, complete with pre-made thank-you cards that recipients can choose to send to the donor family.
"These people have deep, emotional feelings of concern and care for each other, and it shows when they begin to write to one another," says Christine.