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HOSPITAL WORKERS LEARN HOW TO APPROACH NEXT OF KIN TO OK DONATIONS

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Donor coordinators at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center say they are working to educate hospital employees about organ donation in hopes of overcoming employees' reluctance to approach family members about organ donation.

While organ transplants are not performed at the hospital, it is equipped to handle organ donations as part of the Intermountain Organ Recovery System. Only two or three vital organ donations are made each year at Utah Valley, but many more donations could be made, according to Lisa Carlson and Mary Ellen Connor, donor coordinators.The decision to donate or not should be made by family members, rather than having that opportunity forfeited because they were not informed of the possibility, they say.

"What we've tried to do to overcome that is provide education to physicians and staff here to show they aren't the ones making the decision," Carlson said. "It is the family members."

For employees at hospitals like Utah Valley, which are involved in only one side of the process, reluctance is understandable, said Chuck Keilman, transplant coordinator for Intermountain Organ Recovery Systems.

"The staff (at Utah Valley) only sees the down side," Keilman said. "They do all the work and never see the end result of what they do." However, hospital employees involved in transplanting organs are able to see the "up side" of the process, Keilman said.

"If they (the staff) have worked very hard with someone to save a life, it is hard to make the transition to trying to save an organ rather than a person," Connor said.

A federal law, enacted a year ago, requires hospitals to make a routine inquiry of next of kin regarding organ and tissue donation. Many hospitals, like Utah Valley, are still educating employees about how to make such a request and helping them understand all aspects of the issue.

Hospital employees as well as members of the public need to understand that organs are taken only when a person cannot be saved and has been declared brain dead, Keilman said.

"There is a sense in the public that `If I sign a donor card, I won't get the same care because someone wants my organs,' " Keilman said. "That is not true. There is nothing on earth we can do to save these people. But for the recipient it is a different situation. They are also going to die, but there is something we can do to save them."