Speaker makes organ donor issues clear

A heart can only last about four hours after it is taken out of an organ donor.

This life span calls for quick action to locate and contact organ or tissue recipients and have them ready for transplant surgery.

Transplanting tissues and organs from one human being to another may give some people mixed emotions and wrong impressions. That is why Carolyn Ruge, the Organ Transplant Coordinator for Life Connection of Ohio spoke to University organization, Students for Organ Donation.

“So many people believe we are vultures waiting for a death,” Ruge said. “We are sensitive to what is going on, to the family, to make sure that family gets everything they want.”

She spoke to share what people in the organ donation field do, to share the experiences and emotions they face.

Many times Ruge has faced children who were victims of freak accidents.

There was a child in a car accident who the mother said goodbye to only 12 hours before, in a hospital bed and declared brain dead. The child did not have a scratch on her body and she looked alive because the machines kept her body functioning. But, this is only one scene out of millions.

“The drama gets to you. You get a call at 2:30 in the morning and getting on a plane and stepping off at 3:30,” Ruge said. “To know what you are delivering and what you are there for. It gets me every time.”

According to Life Connection of Ohio, the first transplant was performed in 1905, a cornea. The first blood transfusion in 1918, the first kidney transplant in 1954, the first heart transplant in 1967, and the first successful heart-lung transplant in 1981. Today, transplants can be done for; the heart, kidneys, liver, lung, pancreas, small intestine, bone, cartilage, fascia, heart valves, skin, tendons, veins, and corneas.

“It’s the biggest rush to run out of the OR room and rush out with the organ and take it where it’s gotta go,” Ruge said. “The adrenaline is kind of a cool thing about my job.”

And where an organ goes is determined by The United Network for Organ Sharing. This “list” maintains the national computer network for organ distribution that ranks possible recipients according to medical and scientific criteria.

“The only time I think about what I’m doing is when I’m running out of time…otherwise it’s right down the list,” Ruge said.

Ruge said that the farthest her organization has sent a heart was to California. So, as a heart can withstand cold storage for up to four hours, lungs last six to seven hours, a pancreas lasts about 12 hours, and a kidney usually lasts for 24 hours. Because kidneys can withstand a longer wait, almost every hospital performs this transplant. Other recipients may have to go to a designated hospital.

Patient care is never compromised just because one may be an organ donor.

“We are working to change the stereotype of our job. We need to educate others,” Ruge said. “To make them see that you can take this and make something good out of it.”

“We understand that it is getting beyond the other side, to understand that yes, that chest cavity is empty or that abdominal cavity is empty,” Ruge said. “But because that chest cavity is empty, you have to think where that heart is going, that someone else will have that heart.”