Donor Families Share Stories with Trauma Nurses

Ripple Effect


When a nurse is caring for a critically ill patient, showing kindness and compassion to the patient's family members is an important part of the job. Earlier this year, nurses in UW Hospital's Trauma and Life Support Center (TLC) heard feedback from donor family members about the kinds of gestures that meant the most to them in their time of need.


The teaching sessions took place during several TLC retreats at an off-site facility in Verona, Wis. Mary Nachreiner, community development specialist for University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation Services (UW OTD), facilitated the discussions.


"I don't think there's a more difficult thing than to support families when a young person is fighting for his or her life," says Anne Mork , RN, MS, nurse manager for TLC. "Our nurses were very interested in hearing back from donor families to find out if their therapeutic approaches are appropriate during these horrific situations. They were also looking for validation that they are providing the right support."


One mother shared that she appreciated it when one nurse brushed the blood off her son's teeth. "The nurse showed tenderness toward this human being," says Anne. "It made a difference for the mother that the nurse was so graceful."


Mary, whose daughter Kelly died at age 16 after a car accident, shared with the nurses how she will always remember a nurse who spent an hour combing the blood out of Kelly's hair and braiding it. After the session, a woman came to Mary and shared that she was the nurse who braided Kelly's hair. "That compassionate care will be with me forever," says Mary.


Some of the suggestions from donor families for the nurses included:

  • Appoint one member of the family to make sure those closest to the patient are eating and drinking.
  • Anticipate what the family might need and offer it, rather than asking them what they need.
  • Escort family members to the car when they are leaving the hospital after their loved one has died. "These families are totally, emotionally lost, and they should be treated the same way as a patient leaving the hospital," says Mary.

Anne says the donor family talks were the highest rated sessions at the retreats. She hopes to bring donor families back on a regular basis to provide feedback at staff meetings.


Donor Families


If you're a donor family member and would like to share your thoughts about your donation experience, please email