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25. #50YearsofTransplant: Sharon Duncan

Sharon has been part of the transplant community since 1995, working with living kidney donors and now in a leadership role within pre and post-transplant care. She has seen the growth of the program, supporting many patients in their transplant journeys.
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What is your role within the transplant team?

"Currently, I am the Patient Care Coordinator and Clinical Nurse Educator for the Solid Organ Transplant Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital.  We provide pre and post-transplant care for kidney, liver, lung, pancreas and islet patients.  Overall, my role is to help ensure that the clinic runs smoothly, and we keep up with the record number of transplants we are doing at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH).   Prior to taking on this role, I was a Living Donor Kidney Coordinator at BC Transplant and VGH."

Why did you decide on this career path?  Do you have any personal connections to the transplant community?

"I started my career as a pediatric nurse and worked on a unit where we cared for young patients with kidney failure, dialysis patients, kidney and liver transplant patients.  We looked after newborns to young adults with organ failure and I was always struck by the resilience and courage of the patients and their families; it was an honour to be part of their journey.  It was amazing to see the positive impact that transplant had on the health of the young patients and see their health improve, but it was also humbling to see some of the challenges they had.   The unique stories of the patients stuck with me and I guess you could say I got hooked on transplant at that time."

What is the most rewarding part of being on this team/ working for this organization?

"It is exciting to be part of a team of incredibly committed, talented and passionate professionals who are always striving to make the lives of patients better.  The relationships that we build throughout our careers are exceptionally important to accomplishing the work that we do, and I feel lucky to be part of the transplant community.  I still love coming to work every day as each day brings new rewards or challenges, or a new puzzle to work through.  I am always learning something new.  I rely a lot on my colleagues, and I appreciate their expertise every day." 

Can you explain what a day in the life on the job looks like for you?

"Most days start by checking my email first thing to see if there are any urgent issues that need my attention.  There's a lot of variety in what I do, depending on the day. I could be involved in moving new initiatives ahead, supporting staff or providing them with the education and tools they need to do their work, and looking ahead to see what our needs are.  Every day involves solution-finding and collaboration with my colleagues.  Our goals are to provide safe care for patients and a supportive work place for our staff.  It's not always all work though - we do take time out once in a while to celebrate our staff and acknowledge their contributions.   That's important work too."   

Can you share any particular stories or experiences that come to mind throughout your time here?

"I've been very fortunate to have worked with many families over the years with the living donor kidney program.  I remember being asked by incompatible donor and recipient pairs why they couldn't just swap kidneys with other incompatible pairs so when we did our first paired kidney exchange in BC in 2007 it was a pretty proud moment.  It's been exciting and fun to be part of a provincial and national community that is always willing to look at ways to increase numbers of transplants and help more and more patients."

Having seen the miracle of transplant so closely, how important is organ donation and discussing one's decisions with family and friends?

"We know that living donor kidney transplantation is the best treatment option for people needing a kidney transplant.  We encourage recipients to talk to their family, friends, and acquaintances about their need for transplant, because you never know who may decide to step forward to be tested.  

With deceased donation, I think that knowing your loved one's wishes around donation at the time of death is really important.  The conversation about organ donation may only take a few minutes, but knowing will help families make decisions at a very difficult time.  Many donor families find comfort in knowing that the death of a loved one resulted in something positive for someone else." 

What would you say are the common myths around organ donation and what can you share with us to clarify any of these myths?

"Individuals may have some medical history they think may rule them out as donors, or they think they may be too old to donate.  If you think you want to be a living donor, and you're not sure if you're eligible, it's best to call one of the transplant centres to speak with one of our staff.  In addition, some individuals think if they don't have the same blood type as the recipient they cannot donate.  Paired donation allows incompatible pairs to exchange kidneys." 

What is your perspective on BC's milestone of 50 years of donation and transplant?

"It's been really interesting to see how things have changed over the years- advances in technology which allow for better matching, innovative programs like paired exchange, anonymous donation, laparoscopic live donor surgery or donation after cardiac death.   Everyone is striving to improve the lives of transplant recipients and donors, and I feel proud and honoured to have been part of the history." 

50in50; #50YearsofTransplant; BC Transplant
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