CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Every year, organ donation saves thousands of lives across the country.
This week, North Carolina’s largest organ and tissue donation organization will open a new center which will become the first place in the state, outside of a hospital, where transplant teams can perform operations to recover donated organs.
Leaders hope the HonorBridge Donor Care Center will lead to more donations and more lives saved.
Adrianne Rogers is grateful for things most of us take for granted.
“I can exercise easily without feeling like I’m going to pass out,” she said. “Breathing is the biggest thing.”
She was diagnosed with a rare heart condition at 15 and received a transplant at 23.
“I certainly would not be here, if it were not for the generosity of someone else,” she noted.
Her experience inspired her to work at HonorBridge, North Carolina’s primary organization for organ and tissue donation. This week the nonprofit will open a Donor Care Center for people who choose to donate their organs when they die.
“This is the first facility like this in North Carolina,” said Danielle Niedfeldt, president and CEO of HonorBridge.
The Donor Care Center includes a unit that looks a lot like a hospital intensive care unit, but it is specifically designed for people who are on life support while waiting to donate their organs.
“We continue to do testing and stabilize the donor and everything we need to do before they’re brought into the operating room several hours later,” said Niedfeldt. “Currently we’re dependent on hospital ICUs for this.”
The facility also has other equipment you’d normally see in a hospital.
“We have all the equipment such as the ventilators. We have X-ray capabilities — we have a CT scanner. We have three fully operational operating rooms,” Niedfeldt explained.
She added that moving organ donors out of hospitals while they’re on life support and performing tests needed to make sure organs are suitable for transplant as well as organ recovery operations at the Chapel Hill facility will free up space and staff at hospitals and make the donation process more efficient.
At a hospital, organ recovery operations can be delayed if there is emergency surgery.
“Our timing is so sensitive for organ donation,” said Niedfeldt. “A lot has to happen in a short period of time.”
If donated organs are going to patients at different hospitals, multiple transplant teams can work at the same time in the operating rooms.
Niedfeldt says she hopes the increased efficiency will lead to more donations and successful transplants.
The center will also focus on caring for families of donors. There will be a memorial garden where families can remember their loved ones.
It will also have places for donors’ families to say goodbye and grieve, as their loved ones give their final gift.
It’s a gift Adrianne Rogers works every day to honor. She’s exchanged letters with the family of the person who donated her heart and hopes to one day meet in person.
“I always try to take a little bit of what she was like and incorporate that into my life,” she said of her donor. “I’m here because of her.”
You can register to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor at the HonorBridge website or at the North Carolina DMV.