This Mother’s Day, we are thanking all the mothers who have said “yes” to birth tissue donation.
Through Donor Network of Arizona’s (DNA) birth tissue donation program, birth tissue (placenta and umbilical cord) can become a priceless gift with the potential to aid in the healing of multiple or various types of surgical procedures.
The placenta is the surrounding membrane that provides nourishment to a baby. After a scheduled c-section, the placenta is removed by the physician. The placenta, which is normally discarded at this time, can be used to help others with the mother’s permission. The decision to share this gift to help others does not affect the health and safety of the mother or baby.
In the video below, hear from DNA employee’s very own birth tissue donor, Neqwa Hill. Neqwa, a clinical information specialist at DNA, was a birth tissue donor when her baby girl, Arya, was born last year.
Neqwa and Arya’s birth tissue was one of the 54 successful DNA birth tissue donations in 2019, which was also the first full year of the birth tissue donation program.
We honor the mothers who have chosen to not only bring life into the world but share it with those in need. Happy Mother’s Day!
Photo: Heart recipient Oliver Crawford with a photo of Myles, his donor.
Because Oliver Crawford received his lifesaving heart transplant at just 6 days old, his family is taking extra precautions to keep him safe during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Since his transplant, 5-year-old Oliver has been taking anti-rejection medication, which suppresses his immune system. This means that he can get sick easily, and he’s at higher risk for complications—even the common cold could require him to need oxygen support.
Oliver is high risk for contracting coronavirus.
“As a parent you just want to protect your child from everything,” says Oliver’s mother Caylyn Crawford. “So, it’s scary. Absolutely terrifying.”
Because Oliver has been immune suppressed his whole life, the Crawford family has always had hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on hand. But with the recent lack of supplies, Oliver’s family is concerned for his health more than ever before.
Thankfully, the quality of Oliver’s care has not been affected by the pandemic. This January, Oliver underwent a procedure to check for organ rejection. Because this procedure showed he is stable, Oliver can wait a few months between appointments with his transplant team. His mother says she is noticing more doctors begin to check on patients via video and phone calls and prioritize patients whose care cannot wait.
Despite all of the uncertainty in this time, the Crawford family is doing what they can to keep each other safe. This means washing their hands, showering and changing clothes when they get home to limit the number of contaminants entering the home.
“We are just trying to take all the precautions we can, because I don’t want to find out what it would be like if we didn’t,” says Caylyn.
So, the next time you find yourself stocking up on supplies, think about the people who need them the most during this time. You can help keep people like Oliver safe during this time by washing your hands, staying inside, practicing social distancing and covering your cough or sneeze with the inside of your arm.
Oliver got the chance to live a normal and healthy childhood today because an organ donor saved his life. You can sign up to save and heal others as well. Just visit DonateLifeAZ.org. It only takes 38 seconds, and there are no age limits or health requirements to register.
Find more information on COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Oh. That’s cool!” That was Kwentin’s only reaction when he learned his sister had registered as an organ, eye and tissue donor when she got her driver’s license in December of 2019. His mother, Cecilia, describes him as “a boy of few words.” But that short family conversation about the gift of life helped her family make the decision to donate after Kwentin sadly passed away.
“I think we’ll be asking why for a very, very long time,” Cecilia says, explaining her family’s grief process. “It doesn’t make any sense to us. It doesn’t add up.”
Working through such a sudden and confusing loss, Cecilia says she finds hope and relief in knowing something good could come out of her family’s hardship.
“We know someone else gets to hug their loved one, or see their loved one, for one more day,” she says. “To give someone hope when we felt hopeless—that helps us cope.”
While Kwentin never wanted to be the center of attention, he always tried to make everyone feel loved and included. His mom says he was the first to protect his classmates from bullies and was swift to deliver a joke to diffuse a situation.
The sports-loving bass guitar player grew up with the support of his neighbors and friends in the small town of Duncan in Greenlee County near the Arizona-New Mexico border. Even Sheriff Tim Sumner was present during a socially distant honor walk for Kwentin.
“It was just beautiful how much they went above and beyond to make sure he was treated like a hero,” Cecilia says about the staff at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson who helped his donation case happen in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
An honor walk typically has hospital staff line up shoulder to shoulder along the path to the operating room. In a time of COVID-19, this honor walk had one stark difference—everyone standing 6 feet apart.
“They still did a good job abiding by the restrictions but still honoring Kwentin as much as they could,” Cecilia says. “They had the biggest hearts and compassion in supporting us. It was amazing.”
Organ transplantation is not an elective surgery. It is a life-or-death surgical intervention for people in organ failure. Therefore, the gift of life continues, but the process has changed slightly for organ, eye and tissue recovery, donor risk screenings, and how we have conversations with donor families in an era of social distancing.
Amid the global pandemic, organ procurement organizations across the country, including Donor Network of Arizona (DNA), are working to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, in partnership with hospitals and organ transplant centers, while continuing to make the most of life.
With an understanding of the evolving, unprecedented challenges our community currently faces, DNA’s operations are running 24/7. Below is an overview of some important changes that have been made to minimize the risk of spreading disease while continuing to serve donors, their families and the 112,000 people on the national organ waiting list.
So, what has changed?
First, all authorized potential organ donors are tested for COVID-19 during the evaluation phase of the donation process, even if the potential donor is asymptomatic. That’s because it has not been determined if the virus can be transmitted through organ transplantation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned some people may carry the virus with no chest pain, difficulty breathing or dry cough—three of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.
DNA works with a COVID-19 testing facility in Arizona.
Potential donors who test positive for COVID-19 are not able to donate. If a donor tests positive, we will report that result to the donor hospital and the Arizona Department of Health Services.
DNA is limiting onsite interactions as much as possible. DNA monitors and evaluates potential donation cases via phone calls, remote access to electronic medical records, and through donation conversations with families by phone, when appropriate. As needed during the donation process, DNA staff goes onsite to the hospital following hospital guidance on personal protective equipment (PPE) for safety.
Are there less donors because of COVID-19?
It may be too early to know for sure. There have been more donation deferrals—meaning a potential donor was not able to donate—because of coronavirus risk factors or positive test results. However, recent numbers from March 31, 2020, show the volume of successful organ donation cases has steadily increased in Arizona over the last six months (with the timeframe of the onset of this pandemic included).
If families are not allowed to visit patients, how are you meeting families for donation conversations?
The limitations on family visits in hospitals reduce exposure and ensure safety for all, and DNA supports that measure. But these limitations can be challenging to donation conversations. They affect our ability to meet with families in person and explore this most genuine act of generosity of organ, eye and tissue donation. However, we are meeting the challenge. Sometimes, we can meet with families in the hospital. Other times, we connect with them over the phone. We continue to be amazed at the generosity of those we meet at this time.
DNA has adjusted how to best make a connection with donor families, and we value hospital and family support to have these important conversations.
Like everyone involved in the COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning every day and our processes continue to evolve. We are grateful for the exceptional work performed by DNA and hospital staff to continue organ donation and transplantation, and we remain humbled by donors and their families who choose life in such a time of national crisis.
Reminder: It is National Donate Life Month. While we won’t be seeing you at local events and activities, we’re inviting you to join us as we spread generosity while social distancing. Please visit dnaz.org/spread-generosity-not-germs/ if you’d like to learn more!
Now nearly three months into 2020, how many of us have already begun feeling burnt out?
“What have you done for you?” asked Michelle Post to more than 400 attendees at Donor Network of Arizona’s (DNA) 2019 “Illuminate” Donation Symposium last August. Followed by, “What can you do to take care of yourself?” It is not selfish, rather a request to consider how to best prevail. Burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue can affect anyone in the donation community.
Compassion fatigue doesn’t discriminate whether someone is a director, an embalmer, an educator, a nurse or anyone else. Lack of self-care as shared by Michelle Post—a licensed marriage and family therapist—can reduce your performance. It may also affect your physical and emotional well being. According to Are You Burning Out Survey, adapted by Post, “83% of U.S. healthcare workers are dealing with serious levels of burnout.”
It is not uncommon to experience symptoms, which include but are not limited to: poor boundaries, cynicism, complaining without solutions, irritability, anger, hopelessness, mundanity or loss of creativity, sadness, fear, guilt, chronic exhaustion, headaches and digestive problems. Some suggestions to combat compassion fatigue are: setting healthy professional and personal boundaries, using occupational support if available, debriefing, venting or writing and exercising certainly counts. Post uses the “PEAK” mantra.
PEAK performance means:
P—Present: I am here
E—Be Exceptional: I matter
A—Having Anxiety Managed: I am courageous
K—Kicking Butt: Owning self-care
On days it’s harder to PEAK and make time, it’s more important to focus on self-care. To learn more on the PEAK method and self-care, visit Michelle-Post.com.
Each year, Donate Life Arizona honors all who are touched by the gift of donation at the Fiesta Bowl Parade. Donor families and recipients walk side-by-side in Donate Life Arizona’s parade segment, showcasing the legacies created through organ, eye and tissue donation. Accompanying these touching stories was a giant balloon of Reggie, the Donor Cactus, and a passionate group of dancers who energized the crowd along the streets.
This year, 11-year-old Dylan McQueen was among those holding posters proclaiming his lifesaving gift. At eight months old, Dylan received a heart transplant. This transplant gave him the chance to grow up and go on to win a state championship in wrestling as well as four medals at the 2018 Transplant Games.
His mother says that with the gift of a healthy heart came another gift, “the gift of appreciating every day for what it is.”
In 2017, Graciela Sanchez walked in the Fiesta Bowl Parade with Donate Life Arizona for the first time, and made incredible connections along the way. Her daughter, Karen Hernandez, passed away at 18 years old and made an incredible impact on the world. Short as Karen’s time here was, her compassion continued when she saved and healed 23 people through organ and tissue donation. That compassion manifested in Karen’s heart recipient, whom Graciela met at the parade for the first time. Graciela walked in her daughter’s honor again in 2019, celebrating this renewed life.
Also proudly walking behind the enthusiastic Donate Life Arizona dancers was donor mom Dana Ayers. Dana held a poster honoring her 16-year-old daughter, Hannah Pairrett. Hannah was athletic, charitable and selfless. When she passed away earlier this year, she granted the gift of life to five others.
Every December, we are grateful for the opportunity to gather together and honor our loved ones while also showing support for donation. In these moments, we are able to see the impact that donation has and the true gift that life really is.
After a nomadic, military-family childhood, Jason Burruel and his parents put down roots in the Valley in 1981, and he started high school.
Fast forward to April 2016—married with two children—Burruel previously had a quadruple bypass, but it wasn’t enough. Doctors said he needed a new heart. The fear of his children growing up without him was a thought Burruel couldn’t bear.
After eight months on the waiting list, taking medication and hoping for a second chance, he got a Christmas miracle. Doctors prepped him for transplantation Christmas Eve 2016.
“It was the greatest gift I could ever be given,” Burruel says. “Even though I don’t know who my donor family is, I cannot say thank you enough. All I can do is take care of my new heart and live life to the fullest. In your honor.”
Following Burruel’s recovery phase post-transplant, he can play golf again, see his children graduate from college and continue to be a father and husband to his family. “Thank you, donor family. I want you to know the decision you made that holiday season changed our lives.”
November is a time to gather with loved ones and give thanks. It is also when we reflect on the healing gift of eye donation, as November is also Eye Donation Month.
This year, we celebrate Eye Donation Month by remembering Elijah Perez, a young man who saved lives and gave the gift of sight.
Elijah had a heart of gold—loving animals and children, often seen in pictures with him.
“When he passed, I got messages from his friends, and they all told me they knew Elijah because he helped them through a hard part in their life,” his mother, Crystal Aristizabal, says.
Elijah got his Arizona state ID when he was 17 years old, and he decided to check the box at ADOT MVD to be an organ and tissue donor.
Only one year later, he saved the lives of four people through organ donation.
“He showed his caring heart,” his mom says, saving and healing lives with this simple choice.
While you’re gathering with loved ones this holiday season, take a moment to be grateful for those whose selflessness saves and heals the lives of so many. While you’re at it, encourage your family and friends to register at www.DonateLifeAZ.org/register!
Smiles were shared, stories were told, families embraced, and loved ones were honored on a warm October day at Steele Indian School Park. Marcel Pincince, director of Donor Family and Advocate Services at Donor Network of Arizona, spoke deeply to hundreds of donor families about the power of their love ones’ donation and how special the gift of life truly is. Families decorated “generosity rocks” to later serve in memory of someone they love, or to pass on to someone else as a reminder of the power of kindness.
More than 1,400 people came together Oct. 20, 2019, to honor organ, eye and tissue donors. The Celebration of Life provides an opportunity for families to celebrate their loved ones’ generosity while meeting other donor families, recipients, living donors and Donate Life Arizona volunteers. The family-friendly atmosphere included live music, bounce houses, lawn games, a photo booth, food, a memory garden and more.
Damion Arbizu attended the event with his family to honor his brother. He shared how the event was an incredible opportunity to reflect on family members who leave behind a legacy of generosity with their willingness to give the gift of life.
“This is our first year and we want to take it all in, but also acknowledge people who are going through the same thing,” Arbizu says. “I’m glad to be a part of something like this.”
Arbizu’s brother was generous and kind, always helping those less fortunate. When he passed, he donated tissue and organs, helping to save and heal the lives of others.
“He was the type to see someone who needed help and help them,” Arbizu says. “My brother was a real good person, real caring.”
Many took comfort in dedicating time to reflect on the legacies of these heroes, and share their journey of loss, hope and healing.