At the Government Eye Hospital in Egmore, C.Shanthi chats with a middle-aged woman whose son Babu lost his sight after varnish spilled in his eyes. He recently underwent corneal transplant surgery. Ms. Shanthi enquires about the medication and promises to follow it up with the doctor, if only to assure herself that Babu would recover sight.

She is employed by the Lions Eye Bank Trust and, on behalf of the hospital, networks with the Burns Ward in the government hospitals in Kilpauk and Royapettah.

“My job does not end with the donor family agreeing to donate the eyes of the dead patient or with the recipient being sent for surgery,” she explains as she prepares for the day ahead. “I canvass for eye donation in the hospital wards,” says the counsellor/coordinator with nine years experience. “I develop a rapport with the family. This gives me time to observe how the family is dealing with grief and identify the family member whom I can approach about eye donation,” she adds.

Experience enriches networking skills, says Ms. Shanthi. She learnt to network with the police after an unpleasant experience when a donor's kin complained to the police about her. “At that time the consent forms were issued only in English and the family accused me of cheating the illiterate son,” she recalled.

With more organ transplantation being done in hospitals, it became necessary to appoint grief counsellors/transplant coordinators. While some have been trained before entering the profession others learnt it on the job. But it is their interpersonal and communication skills that ensure a successful donation.

S.Sagayam who works at Apollo Hospitals agrees with her. “We run the risk of being labelled insensitive and suspected of stealing organs. Sometimes it takes four to six hours to convince the donor family,” he says. “The family's psychological needs must be met. It is only when they ask about the next step do I broach the subject of donation,” he adds.

At the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, five counsellors are available round-the-clock.

“Families handle grief in many different ways,” says counsellor R. Prakash. “We have to deal with denial, anger and depression among the family. Only after the family provides consent do we take up the paperwork for organ donation. It is also important to explain to the family the procedure and the time involved. The family may be amenable to donation but would get agitated with the time taken for harvesting and the autopsy procedure,” he adds.

The counsellors sometimes spend hours waiting for the family to come to terms with the inevitable. “We have to be transparent and sincere and establish credibility. There are those who would tell us to return the body intact. Each case is a learning phase for me,” Mr. Prakash says. Often the entire procedure of getting the consent may last several days.

The counsellors learn to explain the process and the concept of brain death in the most effective way, says R. Veena, who has been with the government general hospital since February 2010. “Organ harvesting cannot be done in medico-legal cases without police consent and opinion of the forensic expert. Sometimes it is easy to convince the donor but the recipient may not be found immediately. We may slog for two or three days and there will be burn out. But when the end result is good, it is motivating,” she adds.

Keywords: organ donation

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R. SujathaJune 28, 2012

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