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Giving the gift of life

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A family’s difficult decision to pull off life support for their loved one and agree for organ donation left student nurse Sarah feeling touched and amazed by the family’s courage

sarah mabbott ntphoto

sarah mabbott ntphoto

Sarah Mabbott

When death affects somebody close to you, it can be devastating. Despite working closely with it every day, it still terrifies me and in healthcare we often regard it as the worst possible outcome, perhaps even a failure on our part. However, I’d like to share an experience of mine, which gave me a different perspective on death, where a grieving family made an incredible decision, which allowed something positive to come from its unfortunate situation.

It was during my placement in theatres where I observed and scrubbed in for various surgical procedures. I began my seemingly ordinary morning by checking the list for the day, to notice a procedure that I hadn’t yet come across. Keen to observe something new, I questioned my mentor right away and she explained that this was the retrieval of organs for donation and transplantation.

My initial excitement was quickly overshadowed by feelings of sadness, as I realised that this meant that a decision had been made to withdraw further medical support for a man who would be losing his life that day. I tried to imagine the pain that the family must be feeling, but also considered what an amazing difference these vital organs have the potential to make, to improve and save so many lives. For the family, it meant losing somebody close, but for the recipients of these organs, this was a blessing for which they would have probably been waiting since months, possibly even years. 

Immersed in the incredible world of medicine, I have to regularly remind myself that behind every human being is a unique personal story. In theatre, we often maintain an emotional distance between ourselves and the person, armed only with the knowledge of names, numbers and clinical needs.

But in this particular case, I wanted to know more; Who was he? How old was he? What did he do for a living? I was informed that he was normally fit and well, until tragically he suffered a brain haemorrhage, which left him dependent on life support in the intensive care unit. Something which really struck a chord with me was his age; the same as my own father. I could only imagine what the family must be going through, and I admired their enormous courage and bravery in making this decision to donate his organs. 

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For the recipients of donated organs, it is a blessing for which they would have probably been waiting since months, possibly even years

We prepped the theatre ready as if this were any other procedure. And then we waited. In that very moment, the family would be saying their final goodbyes, life support systems would be being discontinued, and then the doctors would officially declare this man’s passing. We waited on the other side of the double doors in silence, and there was a feeling of great respect among my team members as we took him through to theatre.

The procedure ended, last offices were performed and we finally left him to rest peacefully. All of us in the surgical team removed our various coloured hats; these were then tied together to create a colourful wreath, which we placed upon the man’s chest. It was our “thank you” gesture, although relatively miniscule when compared to the amazing gift he will have given to so many others. Organ donation has the potential to change so many lives, and I hope that in doing so, his family was given a sense of purpose during its bereavement. I feel so privileged to have been a part of this and have since ensured that should anything happen to me, I will donate my own organs.

Sarah Mabbott is currently in her second year studying adult nursing at Bournemouth University

 

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