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The Role of Nurses in Organ Transplants

In light of the recent news pertaining a 10-year-old girl in Philadelphia with cystic fibrosis awaiting a lung transplant, I am going to write about the role of nurses in organ transplantation. Now, the whole story has brought much attention to the regulations of organ transplantation, but I decided not to write about it (as of now). We can discuss more about the laws governing and the ethical dilemmas related to transplantation in my future articles. For now, let us start from the basics.

Brief History of Organ Transplant

As early 450 BC, a description of what is believed to be a human organ transplantation (skin transplant) was revealed in the Sushruta manuscripts. The Swiss surgeon Theodore Kocher received the credits of being the “first organ transplant in the modern sense” wherein he transplanted a healthy thyroid tissue into patients who had undergone a thyroidectomy. The reason for his attempt is to observe whether or not this would reverse symptoms now known as hypothyroidism. His technique established a model for future organ transplantations.

Other well-known records on the process of organ transplant opened the door for present-day successful organ transplantation:

  • Karl Landsteiner’s   discovery of the blood group system and its relationship to organ rejection.
  • Alexis Carrel and Mathieu Jaboulay furthered the development of organ transplantation with successful vascular suturing techniques.
  • Joseph Edward Murray’s use of immunosuppressive drugs allowed the first successful kidney transplant from an unrelated donor in 1962.

Potential outcomes of organ or tissue transplantation

Transplantation of living human organs and tissue has become an increasingly significant life-altering and life-saving therapy for thousands of people in the last several decades.

Organs and tissues from one donor can potentially save up to eight lives, whereas tissues from the same donor can benefit 50 lives. As modern medicine progresses, transplantation of the heart, lung, heart/lung together, liver, kidney, pancreas, pancreatic islets, kidney/pancreas, intestines, hematopoietic stem cells, bones, cornea, skin, and face is being performed.

Recipient complications of transplantation include rejection, infection, and cancer from long-term immunosuppressive therapy.

The Role of Nurses in Organ Transplants

Registered professional nurses are often the primary care givers for patients approaching the final stage of life. It is the nurse who facilitates the coping of the patients and their families. In general, the work of a transplant nurse is anchored on facilitating the process for organ and/or tissue donation.

Specifically, they prepare living donors for transplant procedures and inform them on any risks involved in the donation. Transplant Nurses also care for patients who receive essential organs, such as a heart or lungs, from deceased donors,  assist the medical team during surgery and work in post-operative care, monitoring patients for complications like organ rejection.

The registered professional nurse who is involved in the process of organ and tissue donation should (NYSNA):

  1. acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to work cooperatively with members of the healthcare team, the organ procurement organization (OPO) and/or tissue bank, the facility in the identification and recovery of viable organs and tissue for transplantation.
  2. serve as a resource to professional colleagues, patients and their families for the dissemination of accurate information concerning organ donation; participating in educational programs and activities, including staff development and public awareness.
  3. be knowledgeable of the ethical, cultural, religious and social issues surrounding the donation of organs and tissues.

The professional registered nurse can support the organ and tissue donor program of a geographic area by becoming familiar with the program and encouraging others to do the same.

Undeniably, this life-saving act is a very rewarding experience for the nurse and the rest of the health care team. But most of all, it is more appreciated dearly by the recipient and their families as years of existence is added more to their lifetime. Although organ transplants have its benefits, the whole process also entails many legal, ethical and even moral concerns. We will be discussing more on these issues in my next article.