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Joy’s Parting Gift
Johns Hopkins is part of a national effort to raise awareness about organ donation. Here’s how one family made a difference.


At Thanksgiving, Ronald Carroll’s table will be empty. But at another table somewhere, someone will give thanks for a special gift.

The door to Ronald Carroll’s row house on Washington Street is open. As always, the table is set, ready for unexpected guests. Scattered around thriving plants is a mélange of family photos. Only one thing is missing from this happy clutter—the person who created it: Joyce “Joy” Carroll.

Last March, Ronald’s wife of seven years died suddenly from complications of asthma. She was 53. Known for her high-wattage smile and helpful ways, Joy, a 2002 Service Excellence award winner, delivered Hopkins Hospital mail for 18 years, alternating between Osler and Halsted. Her husband waxed floors in Marburg and adjoining lab areas (and still does).

On Sunday, March 19, Joy and her sisters came home after church to cook dinner. Suddenly Joy started gasping for air. Ronald hooked her up to a nebulizer, a machine that delivers medication directly to the lungs. But it didn’t help. They called an ambulance.

Less than 15 minutes after Joy arrived at Hopkins, she died. Her family sat stunned with grief. Sometime later, the hospital’s organ donation coordinator asked if Joy had ever discussed the possibility of donating her organs. They couldn’t recall a specific conversation. “But knowing what a giving, loving person she was,” says Ronald, “we figured she’d have wanted to help a lot of people. So we said yes.”

Though most of Joy’s organs were not suitable for donation, her heart valves were. They’re generally given to people born with congenital heart defects. “The way I look at it,” observes Ronald, “the body’s gone, but the soul is always there. It’s comforting to know that someone else can use part of your body long after you’re gone.”

More than 90,000 people in the nation need new organs, and about 18 people die every day waiting for them. In the African-American community, the need is especially dire: 35 percent of all patients waiting for a kidney transplant are black. Alarmed by these numbers, in April 2004, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials met with key national leaders from transplant and hospital centers, including Hopkins, to launch the Organ Transplantation Breakthrough Collaborative. The goal is to extend thousands of lives by encouraging organ donation at the end of life.

Hopkins already has played a major role in expanding the pool of organ donors nationwide through its paired kidney donation program, which is making headlines for the novel ways donors and recipients can exchange kidneys at simultaneous surgeries. The transplant team has even performed triple kidney swaps.

Organ donation after death, however, is especially delicate. Pam Lipsett, co-director of Hopkins Hospital’s surgical intensive care units, has witnessed the emotional toll a loved one’s death takes on families. As chair of the hospital’s Organ Donor Council, which evaluates organ donation protocols and brain death policies, she’s also well aware that the topic is ripe for misconceptions about motives (see sidebar below).

“When a life hangs in the balance,” says Lipsett, “a family’s worst fear is that we won’t do our best to save their loved one’s life, that all we care about is saving the organs. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Last year, the hospital hired intensive care nurse Debbi McRann in the newly created position of in-house organ donation coordinator. Working with representatives from the Transplant Resource Center, Maryland’s organ procurement organization, and family advocates from Pastoral Care, McRann discusses every aspect of the donation with the family. An “after-donor review,” two weeks post transplant, is designed to make sure everything was handled properly and compassionately. “Families find peace in knowing that another person—sometimes as many as six people—will have a longer life because of their decision,” says McRann.

* * *

Joyce "Joy" Carroll
Joy amassed a collection of refrigerator magnets that co-workers would bring back from vacations.

Joy Carroll was buried on March 25. At the funeral home, she was laid out in an open casket as hundreds of well-wishers—many from Hopkins—paid their respects. Eventually, Joy’s name will be added to the hospital’s Organ and Tissue Donor Memorial, located near the main entrance. 

At Joy’s house, there was always room for one more at the table, be it a friend or stranger in need. This Thanksgiving, though, the table will sit empty, the fruit-patterned dishes untouched. Meanwhile, at a table somewhere else, another family will be thankful to a stranger for restoring their loved one’s heart.

Kelly had noticed the turtles didn’t relish the heat of the day. One of the few ways you could get them to pick up their pace was to put them directly into the sunlight while making certain there was a shady area close by. Invariably, the creatures would beat it for the cool shadows. What a great way, Kelly thought, to establish a feeling of fellowship between the house staff and the faculty.

Suddenly the turtles weren’t in pens, but in paddocks so bettors could look them over. Like race horses at Pimlico, they took on fancy names. A betting frenzy ensued.

Seventy-five years later, the tradition continues, as does the horseracing analogy. The Turtle Derby is always held the day before the running of the Preakness Stakes.

This year, there’ll be magicians, face painters, clowns, skits and a DJ, says first-year med student Roni Prucz, who, with classmates Kristin Kan, Justin Yang and Steven Chen, is organizing the 2006 Turtle Derby. Collectors-edition T-shirts, decorated with images from previous Derbies, will be on sale from May 4 to May 18 in PCTB and the Children’s Center. All donations and winnings benefit Child Life and the Walter F. Perkins Daycare Center.

Judy Minkove

organ donation information
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donor medal of honor

Organ Donation: Debunking the Myths

You may sign up to be a donor on your driver’s license or official donor document. It’s always best to tell your family your wishes. Consider these common misconceptions and facts:

Myth: A history of medical illness or advanced age means your organs or tissues are unfit for donation.

Fact: At the time of death, medical professionals make that determination based on your medical and social histories. Today, more people than ever can be donors. New guidelines issued by the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation have expanded the criteria for heart and lung donations, just as they did for kidneys several years ago.

Myth: Only hearts, livers and kidneys can be transplanted.

Fact: Needed organs also include the pancreas, lungs and intestines. Tissue that can be donated includes the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.

Myth: If you agree to donate your organs, your family will be charged for the costs.

Fact: There’s no cost to the donor’s family or estate for organ and tissue donation. Funeral costs remain the responsibility of the family.

Myth: Organ donation disfigures the body and changes the way it looks in a casket.

Fact: Donated organs are removed surgically, in a routine operation similar to gallbladder removal. Donation does not alter the body’s appearance for the funeral service.

Myth: Your religion prohibits organ donation.

Fact: All major organized religions approve of organ and tissue donation and consider it an act of charity.

Myth: There’s a real danger of being heavily drugged, then waking to find you’ve had a kidney removed for a black market transplant.

Fact: This tale has been widely circulated over the Internet but has absolutely no basis in the United States.

Adapted from the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network: www.optn.org.

Info: www.mdtransplant.org and www.hopkinsmedicine.org/transplant

 

 

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