The greatest gift you can give

BGH helps facilitate its first organ donation

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

There’s nothing quite so nerve-wracking as tackling a new challenge. Likewise, a first-time success is a uniquely exhilarating feeling.

Michelle Sebern.

Michelle Sebern.

Bonner General Health staff experienced both in overseeing the hospital’s first organ donation. The milestone is a significant one for the hospital, so much so that nurse manager Michelle Sebern, who helped set up the procedure, received a LifeSavers Award from LifeCenter Northwest, which arranges organ donations and transplants.

“I feel the award is really a recognition of this entire hospital,” said Sebern.

A highly technical process, organ harvesting requires careful planning and execution to ensure they stay viable and ready to work for another person. Even though the donor is brain-dead, his or her body must be kept on life support to ensure the organs are healthy and functional upon removal.

It’s a process BGH officials in the past have outsourced to larger facilities. When the hospital staff recently found themselves with a an organ donor on their hands, they first checked with other regional hospitals and learned they were overburdened with cases. It was up to BGH staff to oversee the operation themselves. A natural rush of anxiety came along with that realization.

“I think there was a lot of fear factor up front,” said Sebern. “The biggest fear was not that we wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but that we didn’t have enough resources.”

Sebern set to work coordinating the project, working with multiple departments to outline responsibilities and ensure the operation went according to procedure. After the patient was admitted on a ventilator, the team connected their radiology technicians to Kootenai Health to complete testing required to declare brain death. From there, it was a step-by-step matter to make sure the operation went down by the book.

“[Sebern] eased worries of teammates who were participating in the process for the first time,” LifeCenter Northwest staffers said in a press release. “She modeled a positive attitude and a great spirit of compassion that was contagious to the rest of the staff.”

According to Sebern, the confidence that comes from a successful first-time procedure should be valuable in the years to come. Her gut feeling is that Coeur d’Alene and Spokane hospitals will be taxed to capacity more frequently as the medical needs of aging Baby Boomers increase.

Furthermore, the ability to handle organ donations here in Sandpoint could be good news for patients, too. She recalls one instance when a donor’s organs became unusable during transportation by helicopter to a larger hospital. The risk of organ corruption increases significantly once the brain-dead patient is moved from a carefully controlled hospital room into a medical helicopter. Furthermore, cutting costly transportation out of the equation is good news for the eventual recipient of those organs. Sebern said the cost of transportation is shouldered by the organ recipient, and an emergency medical flight can cost many thousands of dollars.

The happiest outcome of the successful organ donation, Sebern said, is that it will ultimately save three lives. A big factor in that success is the fact that the patient was clearly identified as an organ donor. Sebern urges everyone to consider becoming an organ donor and ensure the donor designation is printed on a driver’s license or ID card.

To become an organ donor, register online or visit your local DMV office. 

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