Police, paramedics trained to flag tissue donors

Ottawa paramedics and police have joined the frontline fight to help identify potential tissue donors.

Potential donors who died outside of hospital often overlooked — until now

From left to right, Marco Raggi of the Trillium Gift of Life Network, Sue Noël of the Ottawa Paramedic Service and Ottawa police Sgt. Steve Desjourdy joined forces to come up with the initiative. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Ottawa paramedics and police have joined the frontline fight to help identify potential tissue donors.

Tissue, a medical category that includes eyes, skin and bone, is normally collected from donors who die in hospital, provided consent has been given. A single tissue donor can help improve the lives of as many as 75 recipients.

Unlike donated organs, which must be immediately removed and kept alive, tissue can be donated up to 12 hours after the donor's death. 

It's nice to know now that we have something to offer that family and that patient.- Sue Noël, Ottawa Paramedic Service

But when someone dies outside of a hospital — at the scene of a car crash, for example — the opportunity to donate tissue is often lost.

Ottawa police Sgt. Steven Desjourdy recalled how he became inspired to address that gap.

"It started with a simple conversation with a coroner at a scene," Desjourdy said. "She said, 'Oh, this is a potential tissue donor."

At the time, Desjourdy was unaware of the difference between tissue and organ donation. He got in touch with the Trillium Gift of Life Network.

"I said, 'I'm sure we can do something to make this quicker and faster. Let's work as a team.'"

Paramedics and police will now be able to help identify potential tissue donors, a process that was previously limited only to people who died in hospital. Sue Noël, Ottawa paramedics superintendent of clinical training, said paramedics are excited about contributing in new ways. 0:48

Training shows results

Now, 500 frontline police officers and 500 paramedics have been taught the importance of tissue donation, and given the knowledge they need to flag potential tissue donors either to the coroner or the Trillium Gift of Life Network.

Donors must be under 76 years old, and the time of death must be known.

"We're continuing to do all of our life-saving efforts to do our best to get that patient alive and breathing again," said Sue Noël, superintendent of clinical training with Ottawa paramedics. 

"If we can't, it's nice to know now that we have something to offer that family and that patient."

The tissue from one deceased person can help up to 75 living people. But only if flagged in time. We hear about a new plan to speed up donor identification that relies on police, paramedics and the local coroner. 9:07

Noël said she's already witnessed results in the eight months since the training took place.

"We don't often get to see how our patients end up. Now when I let paramedics know, 'Hey, your phone call resulted in a tissue donor and somebody is now able to see again because you made a phone call,' they're very excited about it."

Marco Raggi, a spokesperson for the Trillium Gift of Life Network, said the organization hopes to expand the program across Ontario.