Health: Nerves ever present during lifesaving task of organ donation nurse

Cathy Jordan, specialist organ donation nurse, outside the Jubilee Wing at Leeds General Infirmary. Picture by James Hardisty.
Cathy Jordan, specialist organ donation nurse, outside the Jubilee Wing at Leeds General Infirmary. Picture by James Hardisty.
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Faced with families digesting the devastatation of losing loved ones, the likes of Cathy Jordan have to ask the most difficult of questions.

Every year specialist organ donation nurses in Leeds coordinate up to 40 lifesaving transplants from donors whose life support has been switched off.

But asking grieving relatives whether they would consent to their late loved ones becoming organ donors never becomes normal, and the feeling of duty to support those who back the procedures is ever present.

Cathy, from Methley, has been working in the role at Leeds General Infirmary for nine years having previously worked in intensive care and neurosurgical critical care in Leeds and Bradford.

“I still get nervous now – it’s quite an intensive role,” she said. “You are dealing with people in such distress that you feel you could make it worse but that’s something you put on yourself. I have never met a family that have been like that, it’s something they do or don’t want to do.

“I don’t think anything prepares you for that sort of experience and nothing can.”

There are constantly two Yorkshire organ donation nurses on 24-hour call in case someone passes away in circumstances that allow them to donate organs.

Nurses gather information on possible donors, liaise with bereaved families and transplant surgeons, as people in desperate need of organs are brought to the same hospitals as the donors for transplants that have to take place within minutes of life support being withdrawn.

Cathy said: “People trust you very quickly because of what we are helping people to do. It’s quite an intense and quick relationship [with donor families]. It’s an honour but quite a responsibility as well because you don’t want to let them down.”

She continued: “People realise this is a very horrible situation and the only good thing that can come of this is saving somebody’s life and that instantly becomes the most important thing.”

Organ donation has been put under the spotlight in recent months through the Be A Hero campaign, which is urging people to sign the NHS Organ Donor Register. It is thought an unwillingness to discuss the taboo subject of death has stopped people signing up.

Cathy, who supports donor families after transplants and keeps them up to date with the health of recipients, added: “You go home and think ‘I should just make an effort and live life as it can change just like that’. It’s human nature to think it can always happen to somebody else but it doesn’t and the discussion about your wishes is really important – I can’t think of anything worse than not knowing my loved one’s wishes.”

SIGN UP AND BE A HERO

Almost 27,000 people in Yorkshire have joined the NHS Organ Donor Register since the Be A Hero campaign launched.

The campaign was launched in response to news that just 29 Leeds families, 114 Yorkshire-wide, donated organs last year, while around 800 people in the county are waiting for a lifesaving transplant.

Nationally three people a day die waiting for a transplant while one donor can save up to nine lives. To sign up visit leedsth.nhs.uk/be-a-hero.

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