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Organ, eye and tissue donation workers qualify for COVID-19 vaccine


Some employees from Arizona’s federally designated organ procurement organization qualify for the COVID-19 vaccination as the state continues its rollout in phase 1B.

Organ, ocular and tissue recovery has continued in Arizona, even in a global pandemic, contributing to the 10th consecutive recording-breaking year of the number of organ donors and total organs donated in the United States.

About 60% of Donor Network of Arizona’s (DNA) staff works in clinical or on-site roles with the mission to save and heal lives through donation and transplantation. DeAnn Padilla, an RN and organ recovery coordinator with DNA, said as more of the team gets vaccinated, it’ll offer some relief in an already high-stakes job.

“I think the positive side would be the fact that we feel protected,” said Padilla, whose job requires on-site work. “Our hospital partners are going to see that we are doing what’s necessary to continue to provide the care that donors and donor families need.”

Recovery staff can perform some of their duties on DNA’s main campus in Tempe, Arizona, but much of the organization’s work is done at hospitals across the state: Organ recovery takes place in a hospital, DNA coordinators work with hospital staff to facilitate the logistics, and—at least under normal circumstances—a team dedicated to the families of deceased donors support them through the process. Hospital visitation changes, among other coronavirus-related restrictions, have changed much of that, according to PJ Geraghty, vice president of clinical services at DNA.

“All of us who talk to families would say that being present for them in this crisis time of their lives—the death of a loved one—is one of the most important things that we do,” Geraghty said. “We can’t be close to families because of the risk of coronavirus transmission. That makes it harder for everyone.”

Harder because many of these difficult conversations now happen over the phone, instead of in person.

The DNA team anticipates eventually bringing back more face-to-face connection to the gift of life by meeting with families to explain personally how their loved ones are heroes for sharing such a gift. Until then, they plan to continue jumping the hurdles because the nearly 110,000 people on the national organ waiting list are counting on them.

More information: Arizonans can join the DonateLifeAZ Registry when they apply for or renew a driver’s license or state ID at an ADOT MVD office. They can also register online at

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