An ‘overnight mission of death and life’

It’s not uncommon for transplant recipients to go public, and the families of donors often honor their loved ones by telling their stories. What’s rare are narratives about the space between, tales of the people who pluck hearts, lungs, livers and kidneys from brain-dead bodies and bring those organs to surgeons who will them to extend other patients’ lives.

That’s why this story from the Ottawa Citizen is so amazing. It follows a team of doctors on an overnight flight to retrieve a heart from a patient at one hospital and bring to a transplant center. One of the doctors quoted in the story, Andrew Pipe, compares the process to delivering a baby:

Retrieving a donor heart, Pipe says, is always an emotional assignment. Donors typically die a tragic, frequently accidental death. Often, they are young. (One of Pipe’s first retrievals was the heart of a 13-year-old boy who collapsed playing hockey.)

“At one end of the flight there is great sadness and great tragedy,” Pipe says. “At the other end of the flight, there is generally a cause for celebration and a recognition of the unbelievable generosity of the donor and their families.”

Although the story takes place in Canada, the process for organ retrieval is similar in the United States. You can learn more about it here.


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