Transplanting organs into recipients is the job of 'Transplant Surgeons', doctors who are trained in the relevant field whether it be for the liver, kidney, pancreas, heart, lung or bowel. More info on transplant surgery can be sourced via the American Society of Transplant Surgeons
So, apart from performing this type of surgery what else do transplant surgeons do in a week?
Transplant surgeons are very much involved in helping assess potential transplant recipients. Once it is clear that someone is suitable to be 'listed' for a transplant then important conversations need to be held with that person and their significant family members. The surgeon communicates the reality of actually receiving the precious often life saving organ, which includes the chance of not receiving the organ in time, how long the actual wait may be and how organ allocation works in practice. During these conversations often there are many more questions that may be asked, all of which the surgeon will need to answer. This is not surprising as undergoing an organ transplant is no small thing for anyone[nor their family]. It is important to clear up any concerns or misunderstandings people may have!
So what are these kind of questions and how can they be answered? Here are some examples-
Q: Doctor, do you travel to the scene of car accidents/car wrecks to get the organs form people who have died?
A: No, because in order for organ donation to be able to occur, you have to have made it into hospital before you die of such major injuries, otherwise your organs will not be good enough to use for transplant.
Q: Members of my family are registered as organ donors, so that means that if any of them were to die then organ donation becomes an automatic process doesn't it?
A: It is important for people to register their intent in advance, however the family are still needed at the time to give the okay for the actual organ donation process to go ahead.
Q: But doesn't being registered as a donor save the family members from the emotional trauma of having to make decisions at what is such a difficult time for them?
A: The family will not need to decide about you being a donor if you are registered, but they are still needed to provide information to assist with the donation process. This includes the relevant family member(s), being asked about the donors past medical and social history which is important for checking on the donors back ground.
Finally the one topic where there often seems to be the greatest amount of confusion, anxiety, and misconceptions but for which gaining an understanding is important -
Q: I do not understand at all about 'brain death' what does it mean exactly?
A: 'Brain death' is declared when there is no longer any function of the brain to support you being awake, breathing on your own, plus being able to talk and to move. Also this has become an irreversible state due to there being major brain damage.
You can think about 'brain death' like this. Imagine your computer hard drive ceases to work despite the power being on and the computer from the outside appearing normal. Well, your computer ceases to function and so basically no hard drive, means no function. The same is for us, in that the brain can be seen to act like the hard drive, so no brain function means we cannot function. However unlike your computer where you may be able to replace the hard drive our brains are not replaceable at all. Also once our brain has sustained catastrophic damage it cannot be repaired either. This is why patients who are declared brain dead may 'appear' normal [like the outside of the computer] and the power supply is still on[the heart is still beating], however they can no longer function [which is why the breathing is supported by a ventilator].
So why is it important to understand about organ donation processes and also about 'brain death'? Because more understanding will translate into more people consenting to organ donation. Plus more organs can be transplanted on average from deceased donors post declaration of brain death versus for deceased donors where death has been declared following the heart having stopped beating.
If you wish to know more, there is general information that can be found via web sites managed by reputable organisations. Here are some examples from Australia Health insite, the United States of America Organ donor gov and India Gift Your Organs Also, if you wish to provide feed back to this blog you are welcome to.
NB: If you or a loved one is undergoing assessment for an organ transplant or are actually on a transplant waiting list, and you are wanting more information then speak to your doctor or members of the team at the Transplant Centre concerned.