Benefis Honored for Organ Donation Commitment

LifeCenter Northwest honored Benefis Health System with its latest Outstanding Hospital Achievement Award.

LifeCenter Northwest organizes organ donation across a four-state region. The organization presents the Outstanding Hospital Achievement Award annually to one hospital that demonstrates “impressive outcomes, strong and effective processes, and unwavering dedication to improving the lives of both donor families and transplant recipients.”

The recognition, designated this April for Gift of Life Month, honors the clinical expertise at Benefis, as well as a culture that commits to honoring the wishes of the donor and their family. 

To support donor families, Benefis implemented a Gift of Life flag-raising ceremony and honor walks for all donors in recent years.

At honor walks, Benefis employees line the hall from the intensive care unit to the operating room to pay tribute to the gifts of life and the unselfish acts of the donor and donor’s family. The wrenching transitional moment recognizes that even in death, this loved person chose to help others, people they had never met. It’s offered with the highest respect and awareness of the miracle about to unfold amid the loss and grief.

Snow was falling hard outside Benefis Health System as Christopher Fullmer’s family and a medical team escorted him from his Intensive Care Unit room to an operating room on a February morning. 

The American flag draped over the 24-year-old Townsend man recognized his U.S. Army service. He also was a consummate outdoorsman, a construction worker and farmhand, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and especially a deeply loved husband, son, grandson, brother, and uncle. 

Christopher’s final service to his fellow man was as an organ donor.

Somber Benefis employees lined the hallway to honor Christopher’s life, his selfless act of organ donation, and the tearful family following behind him. 

Christopher’s life continues to impact those who knew him, and, because of his donation, changed everything for four men and their families.

His right kidney was transplanted into a man in his 50s who anticipates an improved quality of life free from dialysis.

His left kidney was given to another man, also in his 50s. This very grateful recipient enjoys spending time with his friends and family and is so thankful for the chance to have additional time with these loved ones.
His liver was given to a man in his 40s who is looking forward to having the energy and good health to return to his work and interests again soon. He is so thankful for this second chance at life.
His heart now beats in a man in his 60s, immediately working well for him. The man enjoys working in the yard and going for walks with his dog and shared that he “largely wants to be around for his grandkids and great-grandkids.” He and his family are very thankful for the gift of his new heart.

There are more than 104,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list, with 174 in Montana. Not even 1% of people die in a manner that allows their organs to be donated. 

“It’s very rare to be able to become an organ donor, to meet those criteria,” said Brandi Cornwell, who leads the donation team at Benefis. “It’s a gift, such a rare opportunity to find a silver lining in a tragedy.”

LifeCenter Northwest President and CEO Santokh Gill praised Benefis teams for taking on challenging donation cases, saying “they work collaboratively and creatively to achieve positive donation outcomes. We’re impressed with the dedication and tenacity of the entire Benefis staff.”

The Benefis organ donation team and LifeCenter Northwest teamed up for the Pacific Northwest’s first donation-after-circulatory-death (DCD) heart transplant.

For decades, only donor hearts from patients who experienced brain death have been transplanted. Hearts from patients who experienced circulatory death were deemed less predictable in terms of their long-term viability. The game-changer was technology that keeps blood and nutrients pulsing through donor hearts after recovery and during transit. This technology enables doctors to closely monitor the organs’ health and ensure suitability for transplantation.

“It is an honor to work with hospital partners like the team at Benefis Health System,” Gill said. “We greatly appreciate the contributions of everyone at Benefis when it comes to saving and healing lives through organ and tissue donation.”

In 2022, Benefis cared for four organ donors, resulting in 17 lives saved. Seven tissue donors shared bone and soft tissue, blood vessels, skin, nerves, and cardiac tissue for an estimated 875 grafts. 

Montana residents can register to be a donor online or call (877) 275-5269 for a registration brochure. It’s also important to follow that with a frank conversation with family so they understand end-of-life wishes and don’t have to wrestle with the decision in a moment of crisis and grief.