Susan L. Smith, MN, PhD


Organ Transplant 

Identification of the Potential Organ Donor

The ideal organ donor candidate is an individual who has suffered a fatal injury to the brain (with impending or actual brain death), yet has intact cardiovascular function. Severe traumatic head injury is the cause of death in the majority of cases. Other causes include primary brain tumors, cerebrovascular accidents, cardiac arrest, and drug overdose. By virtue of the nature of their injuries, these individuals are most often cared for in ICUs. However, suitable donors may also be identified in the emergency department and occasionally on a general care floor. Patients who can be considered as potential donors must: (1) meet age and brain death criteria, (2) be free of infection, (3) have no history of carcinoma with the exception of low-grade skin or brain tumors, (4) be free of severe systemic disease and have relatively normal organ function, and (5) be hemodynamically salvageable.

The critical care nurse is a key player in successful organ donation, beginning with early identification of potential donors and referral to an OPO, through understanding and supporting family dynamics during the organ recovery process. The family needs to be assured that every effort has been made to save the life of their loved one. If the sensitive and emotional nature of organ donation is understood, these issues can be addressed in a timely and compassionate manner, thus increasing the likelihood of the family giving consent for donation.


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