It is 2 am on a Tuesday morning and then I hear my cell phone go off. I ask myself “Who the hell is calling me at this time of the night?” A few seconds later, when my brain finally wakes up and I look at the caller ID that shows UNOS. This is when I remember that I am on call and start fumbling the phone. Just before my voicemail kicks in, I answer the phone and hear that recorded message informing me that an organ donor has become available for some patients at our center. This is when I fully wake up because if I go back to sleep, I can get in trouble. I need to get up and review the offer (this is how we say that). This type of call is random and can happen anytime of the day or the night. It is still, to this day, a lot of excitement.
This is how every single transplant center in the country gets notified when an organ becomes available. Someone on call will receive an automated message on a cellphone from UNOS informing them of the availability of an organ. Some hospitals have a nurse on call while others have a physician. It does not really matter who received the call because everything goes through the attending physician. It just depends on hospital policy.
Some organs are bad quality, like lungs having pneumonia or a heart with an history of coronary artery disease. Those get turned down. When it gets really stimulating, it is when the organ is matched to one of your patient. You know, as a heart or lung transplant coordinator, that if the donor organ is of good quality, your patient will get transplanted within the next 12 hours or so. Yes, 12 hours because from start to finish this is about what it takes to work a transplant from the time you get the call until the organ arrives at the hospital. For abdominal organ, especially kidney, it can take up to 2 days since kidneys can go on a pump for that long. A lot needs to happen before we say mission accomplished and go back to bed. More to follow.