Brenda Stinner, BSN, RN, CCTC, has been a dedicated member of the transplant community for 30 years. As a coordinator for the heart and lung transplant program — part of the Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh — Brenda has witnessed the life-saving impact an organ donor can have on a child in need of a transplant.
In celebration of National Pediatric Transplant Week, part of National Donate Life Month, we sat down with Brenda to learn more about her career and the importance of organ donation.
Q. What motivated you to want to work with children?
A. Taking care of children opens up a whole new perspective. Children are inspiring and, for many, a transplant is not only life-saving — it changes their quality of life. Seeing a patient grow up and do the things they would not have been able to do without a transplant, such as riding a bike, enjoying their first day of school, or graduating high school, is one of the highlights of my job. It’s why I enjoy working with pediatric patients.
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Q. How do you support parents struggling with the fact that someone has to pass away for their child to receive a transplant?
A. For many parents, this can be challenging. When we talk to them about a transplant and the waiting list, they are often faced with the unfortunate understanding that the donor will likely be a child. At that point, we support them and remind them that their focus should be on their child. I am in awe of how strong these parents can be for their children. Following the transplant, the parents are so thankful for their donor and the donor’s family for making the decision for their loved one to become an organ donor.
Q. Why is it so important to raise awareness of organ donation and transplantation during National Donate Life Month — and throughout the year?
Transplantation is life saving and life changing for so many people. The advances in transplantation are incredible and it’s so important for families to know that transplant is an option and to understand what it means to become an organ donor.
It’s also important to continue this education once Donate Life Month is over. We tend to move onto the next month and shift our attention. But patients are added to the waiting list every day and the number of patients in need continues to grow. We need to keep the education going throughout the year.
Q. What is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding organ donation?
One of the biggest misunderstandings about organ donation is that priority is given to people who are rich and famous when an organ becomes available. Financial and celebrity status do not determine who receives a transplant. The organ allocation system is maintained by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and organs are matched according to height, weight, and blood type, followed by medical status. Age, race, gender, religious affiliation, or financial status are not a factor.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job as a transplant coordinator?
Calling a family to let them know that an organ is available for their child is such a privilege. That moment is really special. Then to see the child recover and be able to return home is so rewarding as a nurse. When kids come back to see us after their transplant and ask if they can return to school, go swimming, or travel, those are the best days and the questions that I love.
Every April we celebrate National Donate Life Month to encourage Americans to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors and to honor those that have saved lives through the gift of donation. To learn more or to register to become an organ donor, visit UPMC.com/DonateLife.
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For more than four decades, UPMC Transplant Services has been a leader in organ transplantation. Our clinicians have performed more than 20,000 organ transplant procedures, making UPMC one of the foremost organ transplant centers in the world. We are home to some of the world’s foremost transplant experts and take on some of the most challenging cases. Through research, we have developed new therapies that provide our patients better outcomes — so organ recipients can enjoy better health with fewer restrictions. Above all, we are committed to providing compassionate, complete care that can change – and save – our patients’ lives. Visit our website to find a provider near you.