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Hidden Healthcare: The gift of life

Saturday, June 22, 2019 intensive care unitsurgery
Organ donation nurse specialist Robyn Geldart has assisted with two liver donations at Bendigo Health this year.

Hidden Healthcare takes a look behind the scenes at some of the health professionals powering regional Victoria's largest hospital.

Robyn Geldart is forever searching for a needle in the haystack.

But as the organ donation nurse specialist explains, it’s an invaluable needle.

“Organ donation can only happen in 1-2 per cent of people who die in hospital. It’s very, very rare. But one donation can change up to 10 peoples’ lives,” she said.

Bendigo Health has had two successful liver donations this year, with another two donation opportunities that didn’t materialise. 

Organ donors are eligible if they die in an Intensive Care Unit at hospital either from brain death or circulatory death.

Once a person who is eligible and willing to donate is identified, various blood tests are conducted to determine the suitability of certain organs.

And, in the case of a circulatory death, the person has to be declared dead within 90 minutes of life support being switched off for their organs to be considered eligible.

“There’s lot of hurdles in place and rightfully so, but we don’t want to miss an opportunity,” she said.

According to DonateLife, the families of 90 per cent of people who are registered donors will agree to a donation. That figure drops to 50 per cent for those who aren’t registered.

In 2018, 554 Australian’s became organ donors, saving and changing the lives of 1,544 transplant recipients and their families.

DonateLife identified 1211 potential donors during the same period.

“It’s about making sure we don’t miss that chance for the family to be given an opportunity for organ donation,” Robyn said.

“We offer so many treatments at Bendigo Health, so why can’t we offer organ donation to our patients and their families.”

That said, Robyn is trying to engrain organ donation into the clinical process at Bendigo Health by ensuring clinicians in ICU and the Emergency Department check the donation status of patients made for end-of-life care.

Families can also help clinicians by having the conversation beforehand.

“As a society we don’t talk about death and dying a lot these days. Death and dying is really hard to go through, because it’s my loved one, it’s our loved one, and that’s really trying. So for people to consider organ donation and say ‘yes’, it’s just a beautiful thing because you’re giving this amazing gift to people that they don’t even know,” she said.

For Robyn, who has been in the role since September, the biggest challenge is to identify when and how to talk to grief-stricken families about the possibility of organ donation.

“To be involved in the conversations and giving opportunities for families in such emotionally-trying times, to give them another option in that moment is what it’s all about,” she said.

To register as a donor visit donatelife.gov.au