“I Just Lost My Loved One, Why Are You Calling So Soon?”
Answering Some of Our Most Frequently Asked Questions During Donation Conversations
Leveraging 50 years of experience in eye banking, SightLife has developed a compassionate and respectful approach for donor family conversations that centers their needs by first acknowledging their grief. Fortunately, many families find donation to be a light on their darkest day – knowing their loved one’s legacy can live on through the gift of sight.
But that doesn’t make these calls easy. Our Transplant Donor Coordinators (TDCs) call grieving families, often just hours after a loved one has passed, to discuss donation. The grief process is as unique as each individual, so our Transplant Donor Coordinators are trained and prepared to work with families experiencing an array of emotions.
During these calls, we get many of the same questions. So today, we are providing answers to a few of our most frequently asked questions to help you better understand the experience you went through or inform you what to expect during a donation conversation.
Why did you call me so soon after death?
With cornea donation, there is a small window of time in which a potential donor can give the gift of sight. Ideally, our trained technicians recover a donor’s corneas within 12-24 hours of death. Shorter recovery times lead to a greater probability for successful corneal transplants.
As such, this means SightLife contacts next-of-kin as soon as possible, which can even be in the middle of the night.
Why do you ask such personal questions?
The United States has a robust and ethical donation program, which uses a standardized system to ensure safety for those who are waiting for life-saving and life-enhancing donations. As an Eye Bank Association of America-accredited eye bank and federally regulated organization, it is SightLife’s responsibility to ensure no disease or condition is passed from donor to recipient. Therefore, we must follow strict guidelines, mandated by the FDA, that require us to follow the Donor Risk Assessment Interview (DRAI) – a uniform donor history questionnaire.
We recognize some of these questions can feel obscure or deeply personal, but they are guided by evidence to ensure safety for everyone involved in the donation process, including recovery technicians and cornea transplant recipients.
Why are you asking me about tissue donation when SightLife facilitates eye donation?
In Washington state, SightLife serves a dual role as the state’s only cornea recovery agency and principal coordinator of tissue donation for the state’s organ and tissue recovery agencies, LifeCenter Northwest and LifeNet Health. In this role, SightLife ensures that you receive as few telephone calls as possible after your loved one passes. It also helps the donation process advance with best-in-class care and purpose by centering the needs of donor families and patients every step of the way.
Why do you need my approval if my loved one is a registered donor and/or their donation wishes are included in their advanced directive for medical decisions?
By law, SightLife must obtain social and medical background information from every potential donor. For most, this can only be provided by family members. At SightLife, we can move forward with cornea recovery without family consent if they are registered, but we still need background on the donor before the cornea can be transplanted. However, out of respect for donors and their families, we strive to have conversations with families before we recover tissue.
It is important to note that every state has different legal requirements for donation. For example, in Pennsylvania, donors must be registered and we must receive family approval before we can recover tissue.
What if I don’t know what my loved one would want?
We receive this question often and truthfully, there is no right answer. You know your loved one best and we encourage you to follow your intuition. What we do know is that countless families through the years have found hope and healing through donation – knowing their loved one’s legacy lives on through the gift of sight.
We encourage everyone to share your wishes to be a donor with friends and family. By doing so, you are also preparing them for this potential call from SightLife or other tissue or eye bank. This shared understanding makes the donation process – and for some, the decision to say “yes” – that much easier.
We hope that you share what you have learned and lived through with your community, so they too have a better understanding of the donation process.
Please Note: This Q&A was developed to address one’s experience with SightLife and cornea donation. However, every eye bank’s process may vary while still operating in accordance with local and federal guidelines.