Imagine that I’m driving along some road. It’s a beautiful day and I’m enjoying the drive. My phone rings and I briefly glance down for it. I quickly find it and look back up just in time to see the six foot concrete wall, which I plow into at 55 miles per hour. I have a terrifying split second to confirm what has just happened. Then, nothing. Fade to forever black. I’ve sustained a severe traumatic brain injury (TBA), even though I was wearing my seatbelt and the airbag deployed. It’s over for me.
With several years of experience as a registered nurse in a neuroscience ICU, I clearly understand the science and the pathology of brain injury and disease. In the story above, my brain took a pretty good hit. It began swelling. The skull is designed to protect the brain, so it’s really hard. The downside of this is that the brain doesn’t have too much room to swell because the skull has no elasticity, or give. The brain has nowhere to go but down. When that happens, the bottom of the brain is forced downward through the skull and into the spinal cord, causing irreparable and fatal damage to the brain and spinal cord, to the extent that brain death is almost instant and can be proven by several tests. You can read more about traumatic brain injury at traumaticbraininjury.com.
There is a lot of confusion about eligibility for organ donation. Actually the rules are clearly outlined. Since I live in North Carolina, Carolina Donor Services is the governing body. There are very specific rules and guidelines for what constitutes legal brain death. Patients that do not meet the guidelines are not candidates for donation.
One common myth is that those patients that have TBA’s but are not legally brain dead are not well cared for in hopes that they will die so that their organs can be harvested. This could not be farther from the truth. In over two and a half years of experience with caring for brain injured patients, I can say with confidence that every effort is made to keep every patient alive. Everything possible is done in an effort to heal the patient’s brain. Doctors and nurses work tirelessly around the clock caring for brain injured patients, trying to keep them alive. The tragic truth is that they don’t all make it.
If I am ever that patient, the one who, despite all the desperate measures, doesn’t make it, then I’m done with my heart, my bone tissue, and everything in between. In that event, I want Carolina Donor Services to have it all. Even though I’m 50 years old, I still have a lot of pretty good stuff, and I’m sure I could save several lives. To think that the heart that beats within me could possibly give life to another person makes me secure in my decision to be a donor.
The obvious moral of this story is don’t look for your phone or do anything else distracting while you are driving. There is also another equally important message. You’ve probably heard the expression, “Give ’til it hurts.” Becoming an organ donor is the ultimate gift, and I promise you won’t feel a thing.