Jesica’s story likely has more sides than we will ever know

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

One of the headlines on my Newsweek magazine this week read &uot;Jesica’s Story: Behind the Transplant Tragedy.&uot; Well, I guess there is some truth there and some fiction; obviously it was a tragedy, and I doubt we will ever have the entire story.

There are more sides to this story then I could ever cover in my column space. There is the immigration status of the family. There are many who believe that the first error was in giving the set of organs to someone who entered the United States illegally.

Then of course there are those that say the media has and will play a huge part in this story. When you see a man on national television tell you that the family was denied the right to have family gather in the Jesica’s room and pray, your hackles are naturally raised. I hope you saw the remainder of the story, where the nurses and hospital personnel allowed the family and friend to go into her room, six at a time, and pray.

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Does that mean the family had wanted a group larger than that to gather in her room? I don’t know.

What I do know from having worked in an intensive care unit is that extra room in an intensive care room is precious. To begin with, they are usually smaller than a regular room, and because of the seriousness of Jesica’s case I’m reasonably sure that her room contained a great deal of equipment. Also, keep in mind that the rooms in intensive care are not very private. They open into a larger area so that the nursing personnel can monitor several patients at once. Therefore, too many visitors in one cubicle can be very disruptive to the care of other equally ill patients. Many hospitals have strict rules about visitation hours and the number of visitors allowed.

Having worked at University Medical Center in Jackson, I have been on both the harvesting end of organ donation and the transplanting end. To me, one was always incredibly sad and one was incredibly joyous.

Under normal circumstances a patient may leave the operating room in serious condition and they may still be connected to a ventilator to breath for them. But they are accompanied by surgery personnel, transferred by recovery room personnel and there is usually a sense of accomplishment &045; or, at the least, hope. In the case of organ harvesting the scene is very different. The patient comes into the operating room on a ventilator to keep oxygen in their system but you know that even though you their chest rise and fall they have been declared dead. Remember that time is of the essence here so surgeons work quickly to remove the authorized organs and hand them over to a waiting transplant team. And while all hospitals are different and I’m sure times have changed since I worked in surgery, things then are very different from a regular surgery room. This time you knew that your patient was irretrievably beyond your care. Surgery incisions are closed and ventilators are disconnected. And in your heart you know that patient was deceased when they came to you, but when their chest rises and then falls for the last time there was always an uneasy moment for me. I would remind myself that I had followed the patients’ and their families’ organ donation wishes and that someone somewhere would have a better life because of it. But when you are committed to saving people’s lives, that part of organ donation is sometimes very difficult.

On the other end of that spectrum is to be there in the operating room when new organs are placed into a waiting patient. You are there at the moment they begin to fill with that patient’s blood and the operation is successful and there is no doubt that you have helped better someones time on earth.

This by no means covers the all the issues of Jesica’s story. And it does not address the fact that someone, somewhere, missed a step in the identification of the blood type of both Jesica and the organ donor.

And it certainly does not address the grief that her family must feel nor the grief or sense of responsibility her medical team must feel. It’s just to remind you that there is always more to the story than then quick headlines that get you to buy the magazine, and in this case more people were involved than you had thought.

Christina Hall

is a columnist for The Democrat.