Louise Mahon is part of the South East Organ Donation Services Team, which provides a service to 18 NHS Trusts across the region and the Channel Islands. She tells us a bit more about her role below.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I guess the most common response to that question for any job would be that there is no typical day!

My first job is to touch base with the nurses in charge of the different intensive care units at St George’s, to find out if there are any patients suitable for a referral for organ donation. I’m also available to be hands on and always offer to cover nurses’ breaks and help out with patient care.

After I’ve done my walk around the units, I’ll join a conference call with the wider South East team to feedback what’s happening at St George’s. If there haven’t been any referrals, I carry on with our embedded work; this involves auditing patient deaths across the intensive care units and A&E.

I also help to facilitate education sessions for staff about how to make referrals and identify potential donors.  It’s really easy to make a referral by contacting our Organ Donor Referral line (03000 20 30 40). We’ll ask for the patient’s details and their diagnosis, and then make a decision as to whether we need to send someone to do an on-site assessment.

What happens when a patient is referred for organ donation?

If there have been referrals, I work closely with the team in charge of the unit to determine when would be an appropriate time to talk to the family. It’s really important that families aren’t approached about organ donation until they are accepting of their loved one’s death. If they’re still really hopeful and optimistic, they may need more time and support before we can start having end-of-life conversations.

It’s really helpful when a patient has signed themselves on to the Organ Donor Register, because it helps that family to support their decision. When it’s not clear what the patient would have wanted, we give them [families] all the information we can and support them to make the decision that’s right for them.

Once a family has said ‘yes’ to organ donation, we have a number of processes to follow and official consent forms must be signed. We also complete a background questionnaire about the patient, which is one of my favourite parts of the job! You get to learn more about your patient’s life and their personality. If they’re going to give this really amazing gift, it’s nice to know a little bit more about them – it makes it more special.

I would liaise with our central department, to let them know we have a patient that has consented to become an organ donor. I would list which organs are appropriate for donation and they would begin searching for suitable recipients.

Once the recipients have been located, it can take anywhere between 10-24 hours before the operation happens to allow time for necessary safety checks. It also allows families time to reflect, make memories and say goodbye.

Two weeks following the operation, we’ll send the patient’s family some outcome letters (which they can elect not to receive) letting them know someone has received their loved one’s organs, which many families find quite comforting.

What do you enjoy the most about your role?

Being a Specialist Nurse in Organ Donation is a really special job. It’s truly a privilege to be part of someone’s end of life care when they have given consent for the precious gift to save the life of someone else.

However, my role is more than just organ donation; it’s about end-of-life care and it’s not as black and white as getting patients consented for organ donation. I’m here to support families and help them come to terms with the loss of their loved one, even if they’re not going to become donors.

It can be emotionally challenging, but I’m lucky to be part of a close-knit team. We hold frequent shared practice meetings and there are opportunities to discuss situations we’ve found particaurly difficult or emotional.

We start and finish every handover with a hug; we’re very supportive of each other!