When someone consents to be an organ donor — usually noted on a driver’s license — he is making his intentions clear. If there is no record of wanting to donate, family members may be confused about what their loved one wanted. 

“Some people just haven’t had that conversation and they want to do the right thing by their loved ones,” said Tom Nolan, a registered nurse and director of nursing at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip, N.Y, who heads the organ donation committee. “That is why you should have that conversation well in advance, so that your family knows that you would like to donate.” 

Transplants aren’t performed there. But if there is a potential donor, like other hospitals around the country, they are required to notify an affiliate of the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. At Good Samaritan, that’s the New York Donor Network. 

The database of donors is reviewed as the first step, and a person’s registry indicates consent. Either way, an organ procurement representative speaks to the family. 

“We have some families decline because the patient has expressed the wish not to donate,” Nolan said. 

Physicians on the hospital staff, not anyone involved in the retrieval of organs, declare brain death. 

“If there is going to be organ donation, the patient is kept on life support so that the body functions are maintained until the point when the organs are retrieved,” Nolan said. “There is artificial respiration, but when we say life support, it is really organ support, if you want to think about it that way. Once brain death is determined, life has ceased. Once the brain is dead, we are just maintaining body functions.” 

Warm gesture

Saying goodbye to a loved one is traumatic. Earlier this year, Marie LaPersonerie’s son Sean, 24, suffered extensive head injuries in a car accident. A friend came to comfort her at Good Samaritan and brought a hand-knit blanket. LaPersonerie placed it on Sean until he went into surgery for the removal of his organs, and received the blanket as a remembrance. 

That inspired her and the Town of Babylon Spangle Drive Senior Citizen Center to start a nonprofit program, Sean’s Gift, to support organ donors’ families. One gesture is to present them with hand-knit blankets with a note, “May this blanket wrap you in warmth and love of the loved one you lost.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.