‘This room becomes sacred.’ The heroic and heartbreaking journey of one organ donor’s body

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The woman lay draped and still on the operating table, while nurses and surgical techs bustled around the room, placing surgical equipment on the tables surrounding her. As the surgeon moved closer to the patient, a tall man in scrubs stepped forward and cleared his throat.

“Time out,” Steven Ashley said, and the room fell silent.

He read a few words about the woman no one in the room knew, but who was the reason they were there that night. He shared personal messages from her family, including a few inside jokes, and then pulled a laminated card from his pocket.

“Remember,” he read, “this room becomes sacred when a family entrusts us with one of their most precious possessions.”

The middle-aged woman on the operating table, he reminded everyone, was both dear to her husband, children and other family members, and a hero. To honor her, he said, everyone in the room should conduct themselves as “though the family were present.”

Then, there was a moment of silence, heads bowed, eyes down.

Most surgeries do not begin with such a preface. But this was no routine surgery.

Although the woman on the operating table continued to breathe with the help of a ventilator, she had been declared dead a day earlier.

This procedure was not to save her life, but to allow her in death to save the life of others.

Much has been written about the dramatic world of transplant surgery — the journey that donated organs take to their new homes, the painstaking work the transplant surgeon does to stitch in a second chance at life for the recipient.

Hours, often days, before that surgery, a team of organ recovery coordinators lays the groundwork. This delicate process, which lasts 24 to 48 hours and in some cases longer, moves slower, with less action.

This is the story of that prequel. Continue reading…


About the Author:

Corey Bryant serves as Director of Communications for The Alliance.
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  1. David Stovall  May 21, 2018

    I would love to continue if there were a link.

    • Corey Bryant  May 23, 2018

      Hi David. Our apologies — it appears the link was kicked out at some point. I have reinstated it for you. Thanks!


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