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Carilion Leading the Way in Advancing Organ Donation


Virginia's first successful heart donation after cardiac death took place at Carilion in September 2020, just nine months after the first successful donation in the country.

Each year, over 100,000 patients across the U.S. will need an organ transplant. Helping to meet this need locally is Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital's (CRMH) Organ Donation Committee. Since 2015, CRMH has played a part in saving the lives of over 300 organ donation recipients.

CRMH is consistently among the top five facilities in Virginia for organ donation. The hospital was #1 in the state in 2019, and #3 in the state in 2020. While Carilion does not perform organ transplants, transplant teams from other facilities come here for donated organs that their own patients need.

The Committee’s Role: Guiding Processes, Identifying Educational Needs

The Organ Donation Committee works closely with Lifenet Health, the federally assigned Organ Procurement Organization (OPO). When a patient comes in and meets set criteria, the primary nurse contacts Lifenet Health. This needs to happen fast: within 60 minutes of the patient meeting the criteria. Lifenet Health will speak with the donor patient’s family and make plans with transplant teams for recipient patients— which can require a lot of coordinating, since one donor might donate organs for multiple recipients. While most recipient patients are in Virginia or bordering states, transplant teams have come to CRMH from as far away as California for donated organs.

Cairlion's Trauma Services team has primary responsibility over organ donation at CRMH, since most patients who will donate organs come in to the facility with traumatic injuries. The Organ Donation Committee includes representatives from every single ICU, emergency department and operating room, in addition to experts from Palliative Medicine.

Committee members meet every other month to look at donation goals, achievements, policies and educational needs. Their commitment to staff education and increasing organ donation awareness has earned platinum-level recognition from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration for three years in a row.

Success Story: Virginia’s First Heart Donation After Cardiac Death

Virginia's first successful heart donation after cardiac death (DCD) took place at CRMH in September 2020, just nine months after the first successful DCD heart donation in the country.

Before that, heart donations took place after declaration of brain death only. But a new device that circulates warm, oxygenated blood through a donated heart until it is transplanted has made DCD heart transplants possible, increasing the number of patients who can receive a donated heart. During DCD, organs are procured after withdrawal of care when the heart has stopped. This is different from donation after brain death, during which patients remain intubated while organs are procured.

“We’re now able to take some of our most difficult cases surrounding the death of a patient, and progress them on to a successful heart transplantation—when just a few years years ago, no one was able to do that,“ says Dan Freeman, director of Trauma Services and a leader of the Organ Donation Committee. “Being able to achieve that level of care at our hospital is going to make a big difference for patients in our region.”

For more information about organ donation and to become a registered donor, visit LifeNet Health's online resources.