The transplant team's role with regard to establishing contact between an organ recipient and the family of a cadaver organ donor

J Clin Nurs. 2012 Mar;21(5-6):888-96. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03822.x. Epub 2011 Oct 28.


Aims and objectives: To understand how the recipients of cadaver-harvested organs and donor families perceive the role of the transplant team and transplant coordinator in bringing them into contact.

Background: Studies dispute the benefits and disbenefits of contact and their differential weights with the two parties. For the donor family, contact with the recipient after a successful transplant renders positive meaning to the tragedy of the family's loss, but expectations of the recipient can also be disappointed. For recipients, contact with the donor family lets them express gratitude and shake off the guilt of having their life saved by a death but can also draw them into the family's mourning and into feeling the family are owed a 'return' for their life-saving gift. The transplant team have to weigh these potential benefits and disbenefits. If the answer is positive, what should they do to bring the contact about?

Design: A sample of 135 donor family members and organ recipients (representing all successful transplants in Israel from 1998-2007) were interviewed by structured questionnaire. Some had made contact, some not.

Method: Data were analysed by means, frequencies and correlation coefficients.

Results: Far more 'contacters' than 'non-contacters' wanted the transplant coordinator to take an active role in establishing contact. No less than 60% of non-contacters wanted contact in the future, and 50% were dissatisfied with the absence of contact.

Conclusions: This is the first study to investigate the benefits and disbenefits of not making contact. Both donor families and organ recipients would respond positively to the coordinator taking the initiative in establishing mutual contact.

Relevance to clinical practice: Transplant coordinators are given convincing backing for taking the initiative in promoting contact between donor families and organ recipients. The coordinator's intervention, information and guidance are needed to make a success of such contact.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Cadaver
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emotions
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment
  • Organ Transplantation / psychology*
  • Patient Care Team / organization & administration*
  • Psychological Theory
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tissue Donors / psychology*
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / organization & administration*