Hospital Donation Staff Make an Extra Effort for Iranian Patient

Ripple Effect



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Sanaz NezamiWhen Sanaz Nezami arrived at Marquette General Hospital last December, the Iranian woman had no family in the United States other than her husband, who was accused of brutally beating her. Her injuries had left her brain dead, making organ donation a possibility. But police were having difficulty locating her family, which meant she faced the reality of dying alone — without providing life-saving organs to others.


Instead, the nurses in Marquette General's intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital administration team members went above and beyond the call of duty in locating Sanaz's family, ultimately giving them a chance to say goodbye and bringing life to seven others who were waiting for organs.


"The hospital staff made her a part of their family," says Wendy Mardak, hospital donation services specialist for UW Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD). "They provided the care and support her family needed, and at the same time, they provided the care and support Sanaz needed."


Gail Brandly, RN, Hospital Administrator and an organ donation liaison at Marquette General, started by doing a Google search on Sanaz. She found the woman's resume online and was able to locate her family in Tehran, Iran. It was a difficult task informing them of their daughter's condition — one that involved a Farsi interpreter and several different exchanges so Sanaz's family could be sure they were receiving the message correctly.


One ICU nurse had the idea to coordinate a video chat with the family, which allowed them to see Sanaz and the care she was receiving. As they watched Sanaz and her nurses, they made special requests that the nurses stroke her hair or kiss her forehead. "It was the most perfect communication you could ask for in speaking with a family that was thousands of miles away," says Wendy, who was able to inform them about UW OTD and answer their questions about organ donation through the video chat.


The nurses learned that Sanaz had been in the U.S. only 70 days, and in Michigan only two weeks, before the tragedy. She was here on an education visa to pursue her PhD in environmental health engineering and wanted to further her education to serve God and humanity. "She had very big goals in life," says Wendy.


After Sanaz died, Marquette General asked a Muslim doctor to wash and shroud her body, and the City of Marquette's Park Cemetery designated a special section for Muslims so Sanaz could be laid to rest according to Islamic custom. Weeks later, Gail traveled eight hours to a mosque in Detroit where Sanaz was honored in a memorial service. She spoke at the podium about her experiences with Sanaz and her family, and the Muslims there welcomed her as an important part of the service. "We really appreciate Gail," says Sanaz's sister, Sara Nezemi. "She really cared for us a lot. She did her best."


Sanaz's organs gave life to seven people across the country. So far, Sanaz's family has had contact with the pancreas, liver and kidney recipients. "My dad would really like to hear from the people who received Sanaz's heart and lungs," says Sara. Correspondence between donor family members and recipients is coordinated through the UW OTD, and is kept confidential until both sign statements indicating their wish to connect.


Since that week in December, the nurses at Marquette General have become the focus of hundreds of news stories across the nation. The hospital received Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson's Shining Star Award for their work in promoting organ, tissue and eye donation.

"This story helped people understand that in the face of tragedy, lives can be saved through organ donation," says Wendy. "It has definitely had a ripple effect."