Gift of Life transplant coordinator explains organ donation process for both families and recipients

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- It takes dozens of people to make a transplant happen. The transplant coordinator is a crucial one, working for both the donor family and the recipients.

"You're meeting people at a moment they didn't expect, and possibly, most likely, one of the hardest moments of their life," said Kimberlee Mander, a transplant coordinator for the Gift of Life Donor Program.

Mander has counseled hundreds of families through the difficult decision to donate, or to carry out the donor's own wishes.

First, she explains the process.

"When they see the movies, it happens in 5 minutes. It doesn't really happen in 5 minutes," said Mander.

Indeed, there are many steps: each donor's blood type, height, weight, and medical history, go into the national matching computer, creating a unique profile, and lists of possible recipients - including backups.

"We may have a list of heart recipients, a list of lung recipients, a list of kidney recipients, pancreas recipients," she said.

They follow strict national rules for allocation.

"That list is by severity of illness, and then it's by distance," said Mander.

"If an organ finds a home in a local area, that's where it's going to stay. If no one locally wants it, then it goes to regional, and if no one regionally wants it, then it goes to national circles," adds Dr. Michael Moritz, Chief of Transplant Services at Lehigh Valley Health.

With 5,000 people awaiting organs through 15 area transplant centers, there's a good chance for a local match.

Mander, a former ICU nurse, also monitors the organ recovery in the operating room.

"To preserve the organs to make sure that we're able to help the most people," says Mander.

Tissue such as skin, corneas, or bone is also recovered then.

Mander also stays in contact with the donor family throughout the process. It usually means over 24 hours with no sleep.

"The transplant coordinator is really kind of the unsung hero of the donation and transplant process," said Rick Hasz, Vice President of Clinical Services at Gift of Life.

"We know that the work we do is going to make a difference," said Mander.

"In July alone, we had 78 organ donors, which resulted in 204 organs transplants," said Howard Nathan, President & CEO of Gift of Life.

That's a national record.

Mander has personally seen the fruits of transplant. A family member received new corneas 20 years ago, enabling him to keep teaching.

For more information on the Gift of Life donor program, visit: https://www.donors1.org/
Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.