As the heartbeat and soul of eye donation, nurses throughout Alabama work hard to ensure life and health are maintained to all those under their care. They see patients and their family members much more often than physicians. Always there to provide physical and emotional support, hospital, hospice and home health nurses are “angels of life” to the hurting in our communities.
And when life ends for their patients, nurses play another role to bring renewed life to others who have a great need as well: the Gift of Sight. For some 40 years, Alabama nurses have been advocates for eye donation through their knowledge, interest and support to donor families.
Education is a key component to the synergistic relationship among the Eye Bank, hospital, hospice, home health nurses and donor families. Because of this, AEB is highly sensitive to the inflow of information to us and the outflow to these groups. Working together to provide the Gift of Sight takes a lot of preparation to ensure nurses can get back to the main focus of taking care of their patients. So, when a referral has to be made to the eye bank after a death, it is extremely helpful if the nurse can be ready to provide the following information:
Preparing for the Referral Call
1. Obtain the following information and have it available prior to calling the Alabama Eye Bank to report a death.
- Primary cause of death and past medical history. Cardiac arrest and respiratory failure need underlying causes
- Recent labs – WBCs, temperatures, and cultures
- Notations of sepsis or diagnosis of dementia by physician in progress notes
- Fluids administered in the hour prior to the patient’s death, and/or any blood products given in the last 48 hours before death
2. Common diseases/conditions that are mistaken as a rule-out for eye donation. Cancer – Only lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma and retinoblastoma are rule-outs. We CAN accept donors w/ metastatic cancer as long as it does not have documented ocular involvement.
- Blindness, “bad eye sight,” or common eye surgeries such as cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration or LASIK are all acceptable
- Some localized infections are acceptable; systemic infections are not
3. Last, do not call the funeral home to pick up the body before notifying the Alabama Eye Bank of the patient’s death. Likewise, do not approach or counsel the family about donation. If the family has to leave the hospital before they are approached by the Eye Bank, please get a phone number, home or cell, where the NOK can be reached.
A Bridge to Counseling
Although we ask that the nurse not approach the family about eye donation, we certainly want you involved in the process. The best way you can help is by using the following “bridge” to inform the family NOK that the Eye Bank counselor is on the phone and would like to speak to them. Please say the following to the family NOK:
“Mr. Jones, we have determined that your wife will have the opportunity to help others. I have a representative who will give you the details and answer any questions you may have. It will take only a few minutes.”
Taking Care of the Donor
Once it is determined that the decedent is a candidate for eye donation, caring for the donor’s corneas is extremely important to maintain quality of the tissue. Only two things are required: 1) elevate the donor’s head 2) place ice packs over their eyes and tape them to hold them in place. Family visitation should have taken place before this procedure is followed.