Hospital organ donation rate earns national award

June 23, 2005|by BRIAN SHAPPELL


James "Jimmy" Chalfant is used to being in front of audiences from his years of playing drums for the rock band KIX.

On Wednesday, Chalfant, whose brother became an organ donor last year, gave a much smaller but heartfelt performance - talking to a small group at Washington County Hospital about organ donation on the day the facility celebrated receiving a national honor.

Representatives from Washington County Hospital and its "Transplant Team" and the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland celebrated the Organ Donation Medal of Honor recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The hospital was one of 185 nationally and the only one in the state to receive the distinction, given to facilities which had a donation rate of at least 75 percent in 2004.


According to information released by Washington County Hospital, there were 10 organ donors among 12 families approached with the option last year. The donations helped in "saving the lives of 27 people," the hospital said.

Stacey A. Smith, manager of hospital development for the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland, said those approached to donate, as measured by this program, were families with relatives on a mechanical ventilator with a significant neurological injury.

Smith said the federal department began to more closely scrutinize donation rates about two years ago, when donations in such cases were measured at 46 percent. Still, she said there were nearly 89,000 people nationally on quickly-growing waiting lists for organ transplants as of Wednesday afternoon.

"As soon as I tell you, it's outdated. That's kind of scary," Smith said of the list.

Jimmy Chalfant and his father, Paul Chalfant, attended Wednesday's celebration to speak about being in a family that opted to donate.

Jimmy Chalfant's brother, John S. "Jason" Chalfant, died several days after a car crash in January 2004. Jason Chalfant, who had been the guitarist for local blues band Rudy & the Bluefish, was returning to the area the day after a performance.

Jimmy and Paul Chalfant said organ donation was not something the family talked about at length before Jason Chalfant's death.

"It's something people don't think about until the time comes," Jimmy Chalfant said. "The Transplant Resource Center discussed everything that was involved. They made it very easy for us to make the decision."

Paul Chalfant said that authorizing the organ donations was helpful for the family emotionally in the months following the untimely death.

"To realize this was saving people all over, we don't know who, it was such a warm feeling," Paul Chalfant said. "It made us love him and our whole family even more."

Jimmy Chalfant said Wednesday that he would be organizing another memorial jam to benefit and raise awareness for the Transplant Resource Center, in his brother's honor, on Oct. 2.

Mary Eckert of Columbia, Md., is among those who have benefited from the hospital's commitment to organ donation programs. Eckert, who was unable to attend Wednesday, said in a letter she sent through e-mail that she received a heart from a donor who died at Washington County Hospital more than three years ago.

"I would have died without that heart transplant. But I was one of the fortunate ones, one of the ones who did get a heart and who did not die waiting like so many do," she wrote in the letter.

Eckert, who said she was ordained in 1990, went on to describe the joy of her own wedding as well as performing many weddings after her transplant, why she believed her donor was a hero and her reaction after the transplant.

"The main thing you feel though is relief - Relief that you're going to live, relief that the waiting is over, relief from living in a hospital," she said. "And freedom, freedom to do everyday stuff, freedom is an amazing gift."

An elated Sharon Etter, clinical manager for critical care at the hospital, said the award was a great honor, especially because the hospital was the only one in the state to receive the distinction. Still, Etter said the hospital staff did not deserve 100 percent of the accolades.

"I think it really belongs to the donors' families," Etter said. "It's through their gifts that we're able to receive this."

The Herald-Mail Articles