Patient, organ donor is honored by caregivers

When a patient passed and became an organ donor, his caregivers celebrated his life with an honor walk at IU Health University Hospital.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes

The hall was still.

The polished floor of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at IU Health University Hospital was lined with caregivers. Some looked down at that polished floor; some wiped tears.

It was the morning shift change – a time when everyone is generally bustling about preparing for the day ahead. But on this November day when the temperatures outside hovered at 49 degrees, the climate inside was warmer than usual. Time stood still for just a few moments.

A patient had died and he was an organ donor – giving others the gift of life.

“As soon as we found out that the patient would be an organ donor we began organizing an honor walk,” said nurse Brandie Kopsas-Kingsley, Shift Coordinator

Medical Intensive Care Unit, Medical Progressive Care Unit. It was a first for the unit.

An honor walk is often been called “the loneliest walk.” It is when a patient is wheeled from his room to the operating room to become an organ donor. This time the patient was not alone.

Ciara Goodbar, who has been a nurse with IU Health for two years, cared for the patient in his final days. When his body began shutting down, and it was made known that the patient would be a donor, the Indiana Donor Network (IDN) was contacted. Steven Ashley, a nurse with the IDN worked with the staff at IU Health to prepare for the Honor Walk.

“With Steve’s guidance and support we were able to coordinate the time and page out an honor walk request to the charge nurses,” said Kopsas-Kingsley. Many came in from home to show their support. Other caregivers including pharmacists and respiratory therapists joined the somber remembrance. For some it was their first honor walk.

According to the IDN nearly 1,300 Hoosiers and more than 114,000 people nationwide are awaiting life saving transplants. That number is enough to fill Lucas Oil Stadium almost twice. In the United States, another person is added to the waiting list every 10 minutes. It’s estimated that 20 people die each day waiting for a life-saving organ. Organs that can be donated for transplantation include kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas and small intestine. Tissue donation includes cornea, skin, heart valves, bones, veins and tendons. Last year, there were 3,977, 508 registered donors in Indiana. A single organ donor may save up to eight people, and a single tissue donor may enhance the lives of up to 50 people.

As the caregivers observed moments of silence in honor of their patient, they recognized his gift of life that would save others.

“I was so humbled to be a part of this tribute to our patient,” said Stephanie Hughes, a nurse on the medical intensive care unit. “I have been a nurse for 32 years and this was my first honor walk. In death, he was still a hero. To be able to acknowledge this for him and honor him with his walk was very special.”