Organ Donation: Why This April We Say 'End the Wait'

The impact organ donation makes on recipients is obvious. What's less known is the profound impact on the families of the donors.

"It's healing for them," said Brandi Cornwell, RN, Operating Room and Endoscopy Laboratory manager. She leads the donation team at Benefis. "They become champions of organ donation."

Brandi is this year's Donation Champion Award winner for LifeCenter Northwest, Benefis’ partner in organ donation. LifeCenter Northwest covers four states, with 808,360 square miles and 9.5 million people.

Benefis is "geographically challenged," requiring more work to make organ donation possible, but even among the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandi goes "above and beyond" in providing exemplary support for the process and people involved, according to her award.

Brandi praised the donation culture at Benefis.

"We're able to be the shining star on the other side of grief," she said. "For families, they get to know their loved one lives on in a way. For recipients, it's huge. While we don't do transplants, we take care of transplant recipients. We know people on the waiting list."

benefis organ donation

Donate Life Month

Every April, Benefis marks Donate Life Month. This year, we are flying a special Donate Life flag to celebrate the transformative power of organ donation. 

In Montana, we had 34 donors and 97 organs transplanted in 2020. At Benefis, we had four donors contribute 10 organs last year.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, LifeCenter Northwest saved and improved more lives through tissue donation in 2020 than ever before.

In 2020, 647 people in our region donated tissue, producing 80,875 grafts. In the past year, Benefis has had four donors and 500 grafts.

organ donation

A single donor can impact 125 lives. Bone can help with trauma reconstruction, spinal fusions, joint replacements, and more. Donor nerves can replace damaged recipients' nerves. Veins and arteries can help with cardiac bypass grafting and dialysis access. Tendons can help in sports medicine repairs. Eyes can replace diseased or damaged corneas and reinforce the wall of the eyes. Heart valves can repair cardiac defects in children. Skin grafts help burn victims and breast cancer survivors after a mastectomy. Cartilage helps with joint restoration. 

Benefis has an excellent timely referral rate of 96 percent, up 2 percent last year over 2019.

End the Wait

This month's theme is "End the Wait," which recognizes the waiting list for organ donors.

organ donation month

Last year, 68 people died on the organ waiting list in our region. We have 91 people on the waiting list in Montana, and 1,809 across our four-state region.

Julie's Story

The family of one of our donors generously shared their story of loss and the gift of organ donation when their daughter was honored in the Rose Parade.

They've had the biggest impact of anyone on the donation culture at Benefis, Brandi said.

Because of organ donation, the heart of their beloved daughter beats on, giving another young woman a second chance at life. Her lungs went to a man in his early 20s who was losing the ability to breathe as water filled his lungs. Her liver saved a woman who was too emotional to write to Julie’s family, though her children sent their heartfelt thanks. Her corneas, ligaments, and skin tissue changed the fates of other patients. 

When Julie Shepherd passed away, LifeCenter Northwest coordinated transplant surgeons, patients, and hospitals to receive the organs. Benefis also provided a bereavement team to meet with her family and support them through the painful days of waiting while everyone got into place.

montana organ donation

Brandi estimated 20 providers helped make the organ donation possible. 

The transplant team works with the goal of “uniting to provide the gift of life to another and closure to the family that is grieving,” and of respecting the wishes of the family and donor so that life may continue.

“It’s about being able to know something tragic happened, but there was good that came out of it," Brandi said. 

Click here to read more.

What's Your Donor Status?

Not even 1 percent of people die in a manner that allows them to become an organ donor. That makes every donation precious -- a truly remarkable gift. Montana residents can click here to register to be a donor or call (877) 275-5269 for a registration brochure. 

Talking with your family is vital so they understand your wishes and don't have to wrestle with the decision in a moment of crisis and grief.

"It's very rare to be able to become an organ donor, to meet that criteria," Brandi said. "It's a gift, such a rare opportunity."