Partnership Expands Tissue Donation

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In the organ, tissue and eye donation world, organs receive much of the attention. But a single tissue donor can save and/or improve up to 50 lives — a gift that has ripples extending far and wide. UW Organ and Tissue Donation (UW OTD) has partnered with the BloodCenter of Wisconsin/Wisconsin Tissue Bank (BCW/WTB) since 2011 to educate hospital staff about tissue donation and talk to families about the importance of this gift.


Donor tissue can provide skin grafts for burn victims; bone grafts aid patients undergoing orthopedic surgery or those with bone tumors; tendons and ligaments are common transplants for athletes and people with sports-related injuries; and heart valves, veins and arteries can save or improve the lives of patients suffering heart issues.


UW OTD and BCW/WTB work together to promote tissue donation: UW OTD educates nurses and physicians so they can provide families with accurate information about donation, and BCW/WTB medically screens patients for eligibility and recovers the tissue.


"We are advocates for these families, and offer them an opportunity for healing, and for their loved one to leave a legacy," says Darice Langham, past UW OTD Tissue Program Coordinator and current Executive Director with the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin.


For hospital staff, it has become important to establish a process for offering families the opportunity of organ and tissue donation. Mandy Voss, RN, BSN, is an intensive care unit nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison and an organ donation committee member. Her committee works with UW OTD to ensure that discussions with families about organ and tissue donation are compassionate and sensitive.


"For every patient who might be a potential donor, we keep the lines of communication open with UW OTD," says Mandy. "There are many times when our staff members will call me at home with questions and concerns. I help them find the right words and remind them of the resources that are available to us."


For Mandy, tissue donation is personal: When she was 12, her 16-year-old brother died and became an organ, tissue and eye donor. "Almost every case I work on, I end up sitting down and crying with them," she says. "I think it comforts them that I have been through a similar situation."


Since UW OTD began providing tissue donation services, the number of families who have chosen to donate their loved ones’ tissue has doubled within the hospitals they serve. "We provide our hospitals information to help them realize they are not burdening family members by approaching them about donation," says Darice, "but are giving them the opportunity to do something wonderful and healing."