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Operating room

How 1 decision saved 5 lives: The importance of organ donation

When one of our patients sadly passed away last fall, his parents made the difficult but heroic decision to donate his organs. That selfless act set into motion a series of events that had never been seen before at Children’s Wisconsin.

Through the organ recovery process, organs were determined to be a match with five patients at Children’s Wisconsin. In my nearly 30 years of being a doctor, I have never heard of five matches being found at a single hospital.

Decisions on who receives an organ are made by the United Network for Organ Sharing computer system, which generates a ranked list of candidates who would have the best possible chance of long-term survival. Since all regional candidates are considered, it is not always the case that a donated organ would go to a patient at the same hospital. Having all the matches here at Children’s Wisconsin not only amazes me, but reflects the volume of critically ill patients we care for every year.

An amazing journey of hope

Within 24 hours after the organs became available, the transplant teams at our hospital completed a heart, two liver and two kidney transplants. To put that in perspective, our hospital typically completes 20 to 30 organ transplants a year.

Our doctors, nurses and staff came together to schedule operating rooms, procure necessary supplies, and prepare the children and families for the surgeries they had all been hoping, dreaming and praying for.

The fact that Children’s Wisconsin not only had the expertise to care for these kids waiting for organs, but also to successfully complete the transplants in a single day is a testament to the dedication, compassion and expertise of our doctors, nurses and staff that together form a world-class pediatric transplant center.

A collective team of hundreds of people worked together to successfully take these five families on an amazing journey of hope — from the laboratory team running the required tests to determine matches to the imaging department providing necessary pictures to prepare for surgery, and the clinical teams on patient floors supporting recovery.

But for all the medicine, training, equipment and staff that Children’s Wisconsin has, this story isn’t possible without the courageous decision of a family during a time of unimaginable heartache.

More lives could be saved

It is a circumstance no one wants to consider or contemplate. But if more individuals and families made that same decision, more lives could be saved. Children’s Wisconsin is currently working with 26 children with impaired organs, 15 of which are on the active waiting list, with almost 2,000 kids waiting around the country.

I encourage everyone to consider adding their name to the Wisconsin Donor Registry list and to visit the National Kidney Registry to learn about being a live donor. As this story demonstrates, we all have a role in saving more lives.