I am an Organ Recovery Coordinator who has been practicing for the past four decades. I’ve worked in 25 cities, from Atlanta to New York to Chattanooga. I started, practically as a kid, back in the 1970s, when all the donors were kidney-only donation-after-cardiac-death (as opposed to the now-common donation-after-brain-death) donors. In 1988 I became a Certified Procurement Transplant Coordinator by the American Board for Transplant Certification (ABTC), and today of course I participate multi-organ recoveries. I wake up every day amazed and humbled by the miracle of transplant science, and honored to have witnessed its evolution.
Over the decades, I’ve worked hundreds upon hundreds of cases and have helped facilitate over twenty-five hundred organs recovered from deceased donors, and helped nearly one thousand grieving families find some meaning and purpose in their most difficult moment. When I first started, there were no donor registries at all. In 1968, the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA) enabled the then-innovation of the Donor Card that someone could sign and keep in their wallet. While it set a legal infrastructure for donation, it was far from common, and only in the rarest of cases did the deceased carry one at time of death. In the 1990s, we introduced donor registries, but even those took years to populate. Still today, for most eligible death cases the donor is unregistered. We’ve continued to introduce new and better ways to register organ donors – and I hope we do so until the end of time – but what I’ve come to understand is that the role of the coordinator, always and forever, is simple, unchanged: help next of kin understand their loved one’s wishes.
Every family is unique, but I’ve learned one near-universal truth – that next of kin just wants to know one thing: what would my loved one have wanted? This is at once both extremely complicated and profoundly simple. For all the thought our industry has put into the legal framework for donor registrations, not one grieving family has ever asked me about the UAGA. What would my loved one have wanted? Our mission is to do all we can to answer that single question through any means possible, to exhaust all avenues to find any shred of evidence about that donor’s wishes to empower next of kin to decide, and to give them that sign they are so desperately looking for.
Today, I couldn’t be more excited about the role social media can play in transforming the way people have these important conversations. The average American visits a social media site a staggering 17 times per day – more than once during every waking hour – to share their views on literally every topic, from politics to religion to, yes, death and dying. If someone shares their donor wishes on Facebook, for all of their friends and family to see, does that for some reason not still represent their wishes? If we are comfortable helping next of kin remember a conversation they had with the deceased two years earlier, why would we not help them discover a tweet authored two days before their death?
Social media is the greatest communication tool at our disposal. The role of a coordinator is to facilitate the most important possible communication under the most difficult possible circumstances. If we define our mission, as I do, as helping next of kin find the evidence they so desperately need, then ignoring social media wishes is not only a missed opportunity, it’s a disservice. ORGANIZE has built a revolutionary platform to allow coordinators to instantly access every donor wish someone has made publicly on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I urge you to embrace this new wave with me.
With gray-haired wisdom and wide-eyed enthusiasm,
Charles Bearden PA, CPTC.