“When you’ve seen one of your friends close to death because of sepsis and severe renal failure and have watched someone so lively and vibrant suffering so terribly it really brings it home how precious life is.”
Dr Viktorija Cerniauskiene is Clinical lead – Organ Donation for Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust and is a Consultant in the Manor Hospital’s Intensive Therapy Unit.
This Organ Donation Week, which runs until 9 September, she is urging families and friends to talk about their wishes and really consider the great difference that organ donation can make to people’s lives.
“I saw this happen with my friend,” explains Dr Viktorija, who joined the Trust in 2010.
“We met in Lithuania, my home country, and he really was a special person. He had a throat infection to start with but contracted sepsis and deteriorated so much that he had sever renal failure. To see him become so ill was really shocking and his quality of life changed a lot.
“But through someone being prepared to donate their organs he was able to get back to a normal life with his family. Without that beautiful gesture this couldn’t have happened.”
Dr Viktorija has previously worked as an organ donation manager in Lithuania. She is working hard with colleagues in Walsall to encourage more openness around what is a difficult subject for many people to bring up.
“I do understand this reluctance,” she said. “I work in critical care where families are seeing their loved ones fighting for life and they are absolutely shocked by the imminent loss. It is so difficult for families because you see the body of your loved one lying there and I know that people think they don’t want doctors to switch off the organ support machines.
“But I would also ask people to put themselves in the position of a family whose loved ones desperately needs someone’s organs to stay alive. I know as a mother I would want there to be someone who had made that gesture so that my children could live.
“It’s so important that we have conversations about our family and friends’ wishes now while they’re alive and well and we can be clear on what they want to do. Trying to bring up this subject when someone is dying, when emotions are so high and when families have already been through enough heartache is terribly difficult.”
The Consultant is also urging people to think about tissue donation if they consider organ donation a step too far.
“Skin, bone, tendons, eyes, heart valves and arteries can be donated after death and can help many people so this may be a more acceptable consideration. As a Consultant I see life and death every day but it means that I also see the great impact organ donation could potentially make.”