July 18, 2024

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Honor walks celebrate organ donors at Alpena hospital | News, Sports, Jobs

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The Gift of Life flag waves next to the U.S. and Michigan flags at MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena. The Gift of Life flag flies at the hospital between the time an organ donor is transported to donate and when it is done and throughout April, which is National Donate Life Month.

ALPENA — In a collaboration between MyMichigan Health, the Midland-based owner of the Alpena hospital, and Gift of Life Michigan, an organ and tissue donation organization, families, hospital staff, and others can say farewell to a dying organ donor in an honor walk meant to thank the donor and donor’s family.

Laura Hoffman, spiritual care manager at MyMichigan Medical Center Alpena, said she’s been part of honor walks since 2013.

“We call it an honor walk because it is meant to honor that individual’s life,” Hoffman said. “It’s an organ donation. Gift of Life has their own intensive care unit and surgical suite, so they bring all of the procurement team together up to the hospital. When that happens, with the family’s permission, we invite our employees and anyone who’s in the hospital, explain what an honor walk is on an overhead announcement, and give them a certain time to line the hallway.

“The people on the third floor, which is our intensive care unit, line the hallway down to our elevator,” Hoffman continued. “Then we’ll come down to the first floor and people will line the hallway from the elevator all the way to the ambulance bay. It’s a sign of respect for that family and a thank you to them for their willingness to donate a life to someone else in the midst of their very difficult time.”

After the donor is sent down to the Gift of Life surgical suite, a Gift of Life flag is raised in a short ceremony, according to Hoffman. The flag stays raised until the procurement is complete.

The hospital also drapes a Gift of Life flag signed by staff over the patient until the person is put into the ambulance. Then, Hoffman said, the flag gets folded similar to how a U.S. flag is folded and given to the family of the deceased individual.

“To be a part of the process is pretty overwhelming,” Hoffman said. “We play music, too. The family usually plays their loved one’s favorite music, and we have that going as we walk down the hall.

“What I’ve seen in families who go through this is a sense of recognizing that, even in their death, there was something good coming out of it,” Hoffman continued. “There was one we did where we kept having to change the time because the ambulance from Ann Arbor was having trouble because of a snowstorm, so it ended up happening at around 11 in the evening on a Saturday. We sent out emails to staff asking them if they’d like to be a part of it and we ended up having about 300 people lining up the hallways. So you can imagine how that family felt to come off that elevator and see 300 people come out to pay honor and respect to your loved one.”

Honor walks do not happen for every organ donor.

“We rarely die in a way that allows our organs to be donatable,” Patrick Wells-O’Brien, vice president of communications and external relations at Gift of Life, previously told The News. “You’d have to die in a hospital, on a ventilator, and have the right circumstances to donate organs, which would be brain death or cardiac arrest.”

Hoffman confirmed those complications, saying that, once a dying patient is taken off his or her respirator, the patient would need to die within 90 minutes. Otherwise, his or her organs will no longer become donatable because of too much stress placed on them.

She said that the donor might be able to give a cornea or skin, but organs would be barred from donation.

“We’ve only had, I think, about three in the last two years,” Hoffman said. “It’s not something that happens every day, so it’s a big thing here. We really want to honor the patients and do our best to make it as meaningful as it can possibly be.”

In April, the Gift of Life flag which is typically only raised after an honor walk, will be raised all month at the Alpena hospital for Donor Awareness Month.

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