Heidi, Sarah and Melissa from BC Transplant's Organ Donation team.
Although BC is no stranger to wildfire, summer 2021 proved to be extra challenging in many ways – including for BC Transplant's organ donation team.
Coordinating one organ donation from start to finish can involve more than 150 health professionals in a highly time-sensitive process. Organ donors come from all corners of the province and the BC Transplant team often relies on air travel to transport the precious cargo of donated organs to one of three transplant centres in Vancouver.
During one busy period over the summer, the team was receiving minute-by-minute notifications of flights cancelled and airports shut down. Airplane charters need three miles of clearance in order to land, and this option was no guarantee due to the wildfires and smoke.
With potential organ donors in hospitals in the Interior, there was no way for the donation team to fly back to Vancouver with recovered organs for transplant. BC Transplant's organ donation specialists and in-hospital coordinators had to try everything possible to fulfill the wishes of the organ donors and their families, and for those patients waiting for a second chance at life.
"Organ donation in general is a highly coordinated event, and adding a complicated layer of unforeseen natural weather events makes it more difficult. My job is to honour the wishes of organ donors and donor families and we try our best to see this through so that people can receive life-saving transplants," says Heidi Butler, Manager of Clinical Operations.
The only option was to transfer patients by ground quickly with the help of BC Emergency Health Services, so that organs could be recovered and then transplanted in Vancouver.
The team worked in sync with the incredible physicians and health care teams in the Interior, and coordinated transfers to Vancouver transplant hospitals, which immediately welcomed these patients in order to honour their end of life wishes.
BC Transplant and BC Emergency Health Services teams working together to load equipment on to the ambulance.
"We have an extremely hard working and dedicated team that goes above and beyond during challenging times like these. As donation activity increases, our team has shown immense dedication through offering additional support to one another during high case volume times to allow opportunities for organ donation to occur," shares Melissa Clark, Organ Recovery Assistant. "The donor families also deserve much due credit and recognition for their decision to accept and be willing to transfer their loved one by ground, in order to make organ donation possible."
The behind the scenes efforts and trust of all stakeholders, healthcare teams and donor families involved saved six lives in the span of 24 hours.
The flexibility and responsiveness of everyone involved in overcoming the unique challenges posed by a tough wildfire season is testament to the dedication of healthcare teams across the province to save lives and offer hope through organ donation.