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The Gift of Life

Published April 2022 | In Spring 2022

Leaving a legacy behind is something many aspire to; whether that’s through charitable giving, volunteering or being surrounded by a loving family. Another incredibly impactful way to leave a legacy is through eye, organ and tissue donation.

The Gift of Life Media

Most of us don’t think about becoming an organ donor unless we’re renewing our driver’s license — it’s a topic that plenty of people would rather not think about. However, by agreeing to become a donor, you’re not just checking a box: you’re becoming a guardian angel for others in need.

Monument Health has been at the forefront of organ, eye and tissue donation in the past several years, including raising awareness, working on internal processes to ensure the best possible chance of donation and working to honor and support donors and their families. Stephanie Battell, MSN, RN, Director of Nursing Operations at Rapid City Hospital, said, “The biggest thing that makes donation possible at Monument Health is our team. From the moment someone comes in the door, to our caregivers identifying potential donors and working with our partner organizations to have them approved. Everyone has to be on point for this to be successful, and we’re blessed to have a great team.”

To provide the best possible chance for organ, eye and tissue donations, Monument Health partners with two organizations that serve the Upper Midwest: LifeSource and Dakota Lions Sight & Health. Together, they are working to increase the number of donors, streamline the donation process and ultimately improve outcomes for recipients in need.

Emily Larimer, Hospital Partner Liaison for LifeSource, has seen the positive impact of their relationship with Monument Health: “In 2021, Monument Health facilitated care for seven generous individuals and their families who said yes to donation — out of 23 organ donors in South Dakota,” she said. “These selfless donors from Monument Health helped save 15 people, giving them the ultimate gift of life and more time with their loved ones.”

Marcy Dimond, Dakota Lions Sight & Health Chief Executive Officer, echoes Emily’s gratitude: “Monument Health has stayed at the forefront of promoting donation and supporting donors. They’re really at the cutting edge of South Dakota offering every available option,” she said. “One of the best things about working with Monument Health is they are willing to look at all opportunities to promote donations and expand that footprint throughout the region.”

Every April Monument Health hosts a variety of events in honor of Donate Life Awareness Month. This year, Monument Health will unveil a new project to honor families of organ donors: the Donate Life Honor Wall.

Oftentimes, organ donation is possible through a tragic circumstance such as a car accident. Remembering the passing of a loved one may be difficult for surviving family members, but the Donate Life Honor Wall will be a place where they can reflect on the amazing gift their loved one was able to share with others.

“We really want to support families of donors by giving them a space where they can sit and remember their loved one. We want them to have a space where they can be comfortable while seeing the impact their loved one had,” Stephanie said.

The display will be in the Fifth Street Entrance at Monument Health Rapid City Hospital, and will include a digital display where family members of donors can share stories and photos. The space will be inviting and comfortable, with the goal of giving families a quiet place to spend time in reflection and celebration of their loved one.

Understanding the need

South Dakota routinely beats the national average for organ donor registration, but the need is still high: a new name is added to the transplant waiting list every 10 minutes. In South Dakota, kidneys are the number one need, with 306 people on the waiting list as of January 2022. Unfortunately, an average of 17 people die every day while waiting for a life-saving transplant.

A common misconception in organ donation is that you won’t be able to donate because of medical or health concerns. Connie Putnam, Regional Donor Development Manager for Dakota Lions Sight & Health, has seen this firsthand. She said, “There are reasons why someone is disqualified from being a donor — it could be health issues or lifestyle choices, and sometimes when we talk to families they’ll tell us they don’t want their loved one to be a donor because they were sick. But the reality is, so many people can be donors, regardless of the medical conditions, especially for eye and tissue donation.”

With recent medical advances, even those with active HIV, hepatitis, lung cancer or who have recently had COVID-19 can still be eligible for donation in the right circumstances. Medical advances allow for cornea donation or research tissue to be donated by a variety of individuals. Age doesn’t automatically disqualify someone either: the oldest organ donor to date was 95 years old.

Connie recommends individuals and families consider agreeing to donate and allow the medical professionals to make the final call. “We follow a very strict medical criteria on who we accept donations from,” she said. “But we encourage people not to rule themselves out. If you want to be a donor, the best thing you can do is register and let your wishes be known, and then we can evaluate your medical situation when the time comes.”

You can also register to become a donor by going online to www.donatelifesd.org.

In 2021, two Monument Health caregivers were recognized by LifeSource for their contributions to organ procurement efforts. Fleta (Mandy) Martinez and Tammy Burke, Lead Application Analysts at Monument Health, both received the Hospital Impact Award.

Mandy Martinez worked alongside LifeSource to create a Referral Criteria Report and Referral Notification Banner that has been integral to advancing donation. Emily Larimer, a LifeSource Hospital Partner Liaison for LifeSource shared: “The willingness of Mandy to share her time, heart and IT knowledge is incredibly valuable in saving lives throughout our region. Because of Mandy’s expertise, we can better recognize a donation referral to ultimately honor the ‘yes’ of those who may have the chance to be a donor.”

Tammy Burke led a project that created LifeSource Note Templates, which allowed LifeSource to document family approaches in a more efficient and detailed manner. Emily said, “Tammy’s generosity and innovation was outstanding. In a matter of days, she had created a set of templates in EPIC that provided continuity, efficiency and a resource for use in potential audits.”

These innovations assist hospital teams in recognizing when a patient meets specific triggers for referral, and have been shared with other health care systems in the region, including Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minn, Avera McKennan, in Sioux Falls, S.D. and Altru Health System, in Fargo, N.D.

The future of donation

Moving forward, Monument Health is helping to raise awareness for organ donations in the Black Hills and throughout South Dakota. In 2021, Mike Diedrich, Monument Health Vice President of Governmental Affairs, partnered with LifeSource to make South Dakota online registry information available on the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks’ hunting and fishing license web page. Efforts like this are expanding virtual awareness and accessibility to register as a donor in new ways.

There are also technological advancements happening behind the scenes that make the donation process easier. Monument Health recently had two caregivers recognized for their collaborative efforts with LifeSource.

“A report to delineate potential donor candidates was requested to grow hospital timeliness and awareness,” Emily explained. “In October 2020, a LifeSource banner was implemented at Monument Health. The banner reads as ‘LifeSource Referral,’ and is visible on the main screen of the patient’s chart when they have been referred to us. It can be turned on and off for an updated donation status and is visible to the health care team.” This new process helps save lives every day by helping caregivers recognize and process donation referrals.

Monument Health’s partnership has also helped Dakota Lions Sight & Health launch a new initiative: their birth tissue donation program. “There are currently only two hospitals in South Dakota that offer the option of donating birth tissue — including the placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic fluid — after a planned cesarean delivery. There’s one in Sioux Falls, and Monument Health,” Marcy said. Where one organ and tissue donor can usually help up to 75 people, just one birth tissue donation has the potential to give hope to hundreds of people in need of a transplant.

One person can save up to eight lives through organ donation. Heal more than 75 lives through tissue donation. Restore sight for up to two people through eye donation; and potentially heal up to 10 individuals through ocular tissue.