Speaking to families about organ donation, Part 2

Grayson Burgess

Grayson Burgess

Grayson Burgess works for the organ procurement organization Southwest Transplant Alliance (STA) as one of two in-house coordinators at Children’s and Parkland Memorial Hospital. He is responsible for offering the option of organ donation to families of potential donors and has been specially trained by STA to handle those conversations in a way that best supports families while also increasing the likelihood of consent. I recently spoke to Grayson to get a better understanding of what that involves. This is the second of two parts of that discussion. 

Q: I’ve heard about an organ crisis. What does that mean?
A: It means that the need for organ transplants vastly supersedes available organs. That has always been the case, and it continues to be the case today.

Q: What do you say to families to explain the benefit of organ donation?
A: One of the things we tell them is that donation doesn’t just benefit recipients. It also benefits families who choose to donate because they’ll know that their child was able to help someone else live. The way we look at it is that we’re not taking something from the family but instead giving them an opportunity to make a very positive difference in someone else’s life. I also talk to them about how rare of an opportunity it is for them to even have the option to donate.

Q: Why is it so important that there is a formal process for deciding who ends up receiving the organs?
A: It’s important to have a formal process to ensure that everyone is on an equal playing ground. The national rules and regulations for organ allocation are not just applicable for Southwest Transplant Alliance or organ donations at Children’s, they’re applicable for everyone in the United States. And that ensures that all potential transplant patients have an equal opportunity to get an organ.

Q: Then are people not allowed to decide who receives their organs?
A: There is a process where a family can elect to give one of its loved one’s organs to a family member or friend. If there is someone they know personally, we can attempt to place that organ with the designated person before we put the organ on the national list of available organs. That is an acceptable process nationwide called directed donation.

Q: How often does it work out like that?
A: Very, very rarely. The majority of organ transplants come from the national waiting list.

Q: What is the process like for patients waiting on an organ from a national waiting list?
A: That would depend upon that patient’s condition, the organ needed, and the patient’s transplant center. Everyone’s situation, of course, is unique. The constants are that each person’s physicians do a great deal of evaluation before placing a patient on the list, and the wait can be a long one. For some patients, unfortunately, the wait is too long. While 75 people in the U.S. receive life-saving organ transplants each day, approximately 18 people die every day before the organs they need become available. That is why it’s tremendously important to register on the Donate Life Texas registry at http://www.donatelifetexas.org/ and to make sure your family is aware of your decision.

Q:Is being registered as an organ donor on your driver’s license the same as being registered on the national Donate Life registry?
A: Registration through Donate Life Texas is the same whether done through DPS, DMV or the Donate Life Texas website. If you register through DPS, however, your driver’s license will have a heart embedded on it. If you register online or through DMV there will be no indication on your license. The indication is not what matters. The registration is good no matter how you do it. And if you register more than once, the registry will recognize the duplication. So register early and often. Remember, registering takes the burden of this decision off of family and makes sure your decision to donate is honored.

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