Q&A: Liaison for Lifeline of Ohio shares stories

For the last six years, Teresa Adams has been spreading the word in the Mid-Ohio Valley about organ, eye and tissue donation. The awareness campaign has reached schools, the local BMV, churches, health fairs and more and in recent years the number of registered organ donors in Ohio has climbed about 20 percent.

Adams, who works at Marietta Memorial Hospital and serves as a liaison for Lifeline of Ohio, was named “Administrator of the Year” March 11 at Lifeline’s Evening of the Stars event. Lifeline of Ohio is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes and coordinates organ and tissue donation, serving 72 hospitals in the state along with two in West Virgina.

Adams said the stories of those personally touched by organ donation continue to drive her work everyday.

Question: How long have you been with the Memorial Health System and what do you do there?

Answer: I’ve been here for about two and a half years and I worked at Camden Clark for 20 years before that. I did the same thing there. I’m the director of critical care services and I’ve been the Lifeline of Ohio liaison for about six years.

Q: What is your role as the Lifeline liaison?

A: My responsibility is to ensure that our patients at Marietta Memorial Hospital have the opportunity to become donors if they wish. I facilitate training with our nursing staff about organ, eye and tissue donation in addition to meeting monthly with a Lifeline representative, reviewing data and making sure we’re compliant with the state of Ohio. We’re required to notify Lifeline of every death.

Q: What is the process once a death occurs?

A: If a patient passes away, our staff is educated to notify Lifeline, and then it depends on the situation. Most of the time, someone is able to be an eye or tissue donor but only about roughly 1 percent of the population can be an organ donor. It can only happen if the patient is declared brain dead.

Q: What does Lifeline do at that point?

A: Lifeline approaches the family. They send a family representative down here to speak with the family. Some patients who die may already be a registered organ donor. If not, the next of kin can give permission.

The donation takes place here although we don’t do the transplants here. It’s a very choreographed process. Teams come in and there is a team for each organ–a heart/lung team, a kidney team…they fly into the Wood County airport and the process takes about 48 hours from beginning to end. We have to keep the patient on life support, technically alive, during the process.

Q: Have you always felt that organ donation was important?

A: I was a critical care nurse and knew about organ donation and my responsibilities as a nurse. Any time lives can be saved in the presence of tragedy is something I support.

But I didn’t really understand until I became the Lifeline liaison what we can do as a community for organ donation. Now I encourage people to register. I know how many people are on the wait list and how many people die every day waiting. I’ve met so many people locally that have either received a donation, had a family member donate and save a life or been part of a living donation.

I see so many cases where this saves and transforms lives. My own mother had a corneal transplant last year. My husband had neck surgery and they used a cadaver bone. I have gotten to talk to so many people who recognize if it hadn’t been for a donor, they wouldn’t be here.

Q: How do you promote awareness of organ donation?

A: We go to health fairs and have donation stations, we had a torch run last year, we have a Hope for the Holidays event for families affected. There is a lot we do locally. We advertise on social media, billboards…I go to Lions Club meetings or church groups. I always take someone with me who has been a recipient.

I go into the BMV to educate that staff on how to answer questions about being an organ donor. We have ambassadors, trained volunteers, that go into the high schools so that when students get their license for the first time, they are informed.

Q: Have you seen an increase in awareness?

A: In comparison to 10 years ago, absolutely.

A lot of students sign up because of the education and the focus now is really on the older population. They’re afraid because of (myths)…they think if those at the hospital know they’re a donor they won’t take care of them, which is not true. They think they’re too old or too sick and we wouldn’t want to use their organ or tissue and that’s not true. It’s really the older generations and us Baby Boomers we need to focus on because they’re less apt to be a donor.

Q: Does it make a big difference to have them meet someone who was saved by a donation?

A: It means more if it’s someone they know. To me, the stories of these people are amazing. It’s either that the stars aligned perfectly or there’s something that never should have happened and it did. We had someone in the torch run, Nick, who had a heart transplant when he was a couple months old and he’s now lived 15 years with the donor heart.

Q: What is some information people need to know about donation that they may not?

A: The national organ transplant waiting list has 118,477 people on it. In Ohio, there are 3,100 on the list. In Ohio, 58.6 percent of people are registered organ, eye and tissue donors and just a few years ago that was teetering in the low 30s.

It was recently 19 a day but is now up to 23 people a day that die on the waiting list. A single donor can potentially save the lives of up to eight people and enhance the life of up to 50 people.

Q: Other than registering at the BMV, how can people become a registered donor?

A: They can register online at donatelifeohio.org. We’re also on Facebook at donatelifeohio.

Kate York conducted this interview.