Dr. Anusoumya Ganapathy, ICU Intensivist, and Organ and Tissue Donation Champion
At Guelph General Hospital our physician champion for organ and tissue donation through the Trillium Gift of Life Network is Dr. Anusoumya Ganapathy. She is an Intensivist, one of our critical care specialists, in our Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
In 2013, Dr. Ganapathy stepped forward to join our internal Trillium Gift of Life Committee. She wanted to work to improve awareness around opportunities for organ and tissue donation as part of the end–of-life process for patients. She had been inspired by her mother’s life being extended through donations of bone marrow from her uncle. This personal experience led to a professional interest in supporting patients, along with their families, to consider organ and tissue donation.
A gift of life requires a high level of coordination across multiple teams throughout the hospital, and part of being a physician champion means looking for any and all opportunities to raise awareness.
“Nothing crosses different departments of the hospital more than a gift of life,” explained Dr. Ganapathy. “Staff may not know that the diagnostic imaging exam or blood sample is an assessment of the suitability of a donor organ. The porter who transports the patient to and from these procedures might not know that it is for a gift of life. Yet, all of the work of the various staff at every stage of the process helps make that gift of life a reality.”
Another aspect of her work is ensuring opportunities for potential donation are not missed. This involves being part of the identification of patients who have a very low chance for recovery. Patients nearing the end of their lives are flagged to the Trillium Gift of Life Network whose staff come on site to work with the patient and their families. Often the patient can no longer make medical decisions for themselves and it is their loved ones who try to gauge their intent and fulfill their wishes. Trillium is able to identify whether the patient had registered their intent to donate at BeADonor.ca or through a Service Ontario office.
Patients are sometimes identified as candidates for organ donation in the Emergency Room, the Operating Room and on the medicine floors, but mostly through the ICU. Patients in the ICU tend to be the most severely ill of any in our hospital, requiring a lot of continual monitoring and life supports, such as ventilators. Dr. Ganapathy describes the ICU as a “place where mortality is high” and where tough discussions around dying occur. “A bright spot in this process for many families is the opportunity for their loved one to extend the lives of others. Organs and tissues from their loved one may enhance the lives of up to eight other people whose quality of life is under threat. Gifts of life can soften the grief these families are experiencing,” she said.
It is a very time-sensitive matter once a potential organ donor has passed. Within an hour of death, specialized care needs to begin that will protect the patient’s desire to give a gift of life. The teams of surgeons who harvest organs are extremely specialized and are often flown around the province to do their work. Coordination with that team and with the transplant teams in facilities where matched patients await is handled by Trillium. Transplants occur in specialized centres and recipients need to be transferred there from wherever they live in Ontario. The complexity of the coordination required can seem daunting but is standard work for Trillium that matches donors and recipients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Reflecting upon her eight years as a physician champion, Dr. Ganapathy said, “A huge growth of awareness has happened not only among staff at Guelph General, but also throughout our wider community. This is a very generous community and our rate of registered donors is typically higher than neighbouring centres. In my mind it is the greatest gift, the ability to allow life to carry on in others, as our own light dims.”