Coordinators practice at the very heart of the robust and complex field of organ transplantation. They put all the pieces of transplantation together when they collaborate with transplant surgeons, immunology specialists, attending and consulting physicians, nurses, hospital leaders, chaplains, social workers and other members of the health-care team. The procurement transplant coordinator and the clinical transplant coordinator are the professionals in health care who apply their specialized knowledge to make transplantation happen.

An unsung hero

Although surgeons were the pioneers who made organ transplantation technically possible, the creation of a system to support the myriad facets of transplantation and donation belong to the coordinator. Without this system, transplantation could not exist for the thousands who need an organ for a second chance at life.

There are hundreds of acts that must occur for a donor to be realized and the organ to be allocated and transplanted into a recipient. The role of the coordinator can be overlooked when reading historical accounts of transplantation, which typically feature milestones in surgical and immunological accomplishments.

The role of coordinators

Procurement coordinators meet with the family of the potential donor to obtain permission for donation. If permission is granted, the coordinator will work tirelessly to schedule serologies and deliver them to the immunology laboratory, schedule the organ removal, assist in the surgery and ultimately flush and cool the organs. The coordinator then either places the organ on a portable-perfusion pump or packages them for transport to another destination. He or she might even accompany the organs on perfusion machines to their destination. Coordinators frequently converse over the phone at odd hours of the night and meet in airports after being awake for long hours.

Clinical-transplant coordinators are called on to manage the complicated care of transplant recipient, both in preparation for and after surgery. It is not uncommon for clinical coordinators to monitor and adjust immunosuppressive therapies, validate laboratory results, admit patients to hospitals for treatment of complications and interpret clinical findings. Most of these coordinators are registered nurses. They provide the majority of education to patients, and monitor patients for signs and symptoms of rejection and infection.