Organ donation

Before going to hospital

The time before hospital admission was difficult and traumatic for the people we interviewed, particularly because some events were sudden, unexpected and dangerous. Most people had not been with their relative when the first event occurred and had not realised then how serious the situation was. This added to their shock and distress.
Usually, organs that are suitable for donation come from people who have died suddenly and unexpectedly. Generally, this is after they have had a brain haemorrhage, a stroke or a major accident like a car crash. All of the donor families interviewed consented to organ donation on the death of their loved one. This was after the patient had spent some time on a ventilator (life support machine) in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU). During this time, everything possible was done to save the life of their loved one.
A brain haemorrhage is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition where blood leaks out of blood vessels over the surface of the brain. Some of the donor families said their loved one had died of a severe brain haemorrhage, although they had not known what was wrong when they called for an ambulance. Their relative had collapsed completely out of the blue and, at this stage, they had no idea it would be life-threatening.
One man, Rick, had been playing football, as he usually did on a Sunday, when his wife, Liz, received a call from the team manager to say that he’d been admitted to hospital. Like other people we spoke with, Liz did not think it would be anything serious.
Some people said their loved one had had a major road traffic accident causing injuries from which they had, sadly, not survived.
A few people said that their relative had been unwell for some time, but they were shocked to hear that they had suddenly got much worse and would not survive.
Andrea’s brother, Paul, had had health problems since the age of 11. When he aspirated, however, she hoped he would recover as he had done in the past. Aspiration is when solids or liquids that should be swallowed into the stomach are instead breathed into the respiratory system, or when substances from the outside environment are accidentally breathed into the lungs.
Haydn’s teenage son had severe depression and had been taking illegal drugs as well as prescribed medications. Sadly, he died of a drug overdose at the age of eighteen.
Some people did not at first realise just how serious their loved one’s condition or injuries were. Very quickly, a seemingly normal day turned into a very abnormal one.
Sandra, a nursing sister, did suspect that her daughter, Rachel, had had a brain haemorrhage. Sandra’s mum had died of a brain haemorrhage when she was 17 and Rachel had similar symptoms. As her mother, though, Sandra never gave up hoping she’d pull through.
Most of the people we interviewed were impressed by the care their loved one had received from the ambulance team and the emergency staff at hospital (see At the hospital).

Last reviewed May 2016.


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