The moving way CHOC supports families of pediatric organ donors

Dozens of staff lined the hallway making the route from CHOC Children’s Hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit to its surgical center, offering silent support as a hospital bed came down the aisle.

A family followed alongside the bed, preparing to give the child it carried a last kiss goodbye before their final act of bravery after a life-ending illness or injury: donating an organ to a stranger in need.  

This somber ceremony is CHOC’s “Walk of Honor,” a practice designed to honor CHOC families’ courageous and selfless decision to donate their child’s organs upon their death.

“Our PICU nurses recognize the pain and loneliness these families feel when leaving the hospital without their loved one and are determined to make their last walk out a dignified one,” says Alisa Brown, the PICU’s nurse manager, who helped launch the practice.

As the anniversary of CHOC’s first Walk of Honor approaches, Alisa will speak later this month at the annual symposium for OneLegacy, a nonprofit organ donation advocacy group based in Southern California that works closely with CHOC.

At the upcoming symposium, Alisa will discuss CHOC’s Walk of Honor and a complementary flag-raising ceremony, and how both have impacted CHOC families and staff alike.

Support leaving the hospital

The flag ceremony bookends the Walk of Honor, ensuring that families are supported both when bringing their child to the operating room and when leaving the hospital to begin a new reality without their child.

After they say their final goodbyes and their child is pronounced deceased, the family is escorted by CHOC’s team outside. There, a distinctive flag is raised to commemorate their life-saving gift. A reading and moment of silence punctuate the ceremony. The family also receives a flag to take home.

The OneLegacy and Donate Life flag flies outside CHOC Children’s Hospital to commemorate a patient’s life-saving gift of organ donation.

“This is our way of ensuring that these families are not walking out of the hospital alone and that they are thanked and honored for their courageous gift before leaving CHOC Children’s Hospital for the last time,” Alisa says.

The flag flies outside the hospital for a week, serving as a reminder to all who pass below of a CHOC family’s ultimate gift.

“When people see that flag outside, it reminds us why we’re here,” Alisa says. “It’s easy to get caught up in what’s going on in our lives, but this puts everything in perspective.”

Easing grief

The PICU’s goal is to provide the opportunity for organ donation to all families whose child may be eligible.

“One organ donor can save five different lives and it’s something so healing for these families,” Alisa says. “It helps with grieving process. It’s just a really powerful thing.”

The Walk of Honor and flag ceremonies are a small way for CHOC to thank and honor these families and their selfless gift.

Ceremonies are held only with a family’s permission, and the CHOC team works to make them as personal as possible. For example, one family’s ceremony included the child’s favorite music.

“For the families, it changes their memory,” Alisa says. “A mom told me, ‘You gave me a positive memory from the worst day of my life.’”

The surprising impact on staff

The ceremonies have had an unexpected impact on CHOC staff as well.

Processions draw staff from all over the hospital campus and from a range of disciplines, including clinicians, dietary workers, environmental services staff and administrative employees.

“After we did the first ceremony, I had 30 emails and texts from colleagues saying thank you for letting them be part of it,” Alisa says. “We did this to honor the families and to thank them for their courageous gift, but it’s turned out to be a huge, impactful thing for the entire organization. It’s made us more cohesive.”

Both CHOC Children’s Hospital and CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital recently earned silver recognition for their efforts to increase organ, eye, and tissue donor registrations, through the 2019 Workplace Partnership for Life (WPFL) Hospital Organ Donation Campaign.

CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange and CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital both earned silver recognition through the WPFL Hospital Organ Donation Campaign.

The WPFL is a national initiative that unites the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the organ donation community with workplaces across the nation in spreading the word about the importance of donation.

Learn how to become an organ donor.

CHOC Children’s PICU Earns Gold Beacon Award Recognizing Exceptional Patient Care for Third Time

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) recently conferred a gold-level Beacon Award for Excellence in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at CHOC Children’s Hospital. This is the third time CHOC has earned the gold-level distinction.

The Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes unit caregivers who successfully improve patient outcomes and align practices with AACN’s six Healthy Work Environment Standards. Units that achieve this three-year, three-level award with gold, silver or bronze designations meet national criteria consistent with Magnet Recognition, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the National Quality Healthcare Award.

“The Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes caregivers in stellar units whose consistent and systematic approach to evidence-based care optimizes patient outcomes,” explains AACN President, Clareen Wiencek, RN, PhD, ACNP, ACHPN. “Units that receive this national recognition serve as role models to others on their journey to excellent patient and family care.”

CHOC’s PICU earned a gold award, the highest designation, by meeting the following evidence-based Beacon Award for Excellence criteria:

  • leadership structures and systems;
  • appropriate staffing and staff engagement;
  • effective communication, knowledge management, learning and development;
  • evidence-based practice and processes; and
  • outcome measurement.

“This award is further validation of our entire pediatric intensive care team’s dedication to the highest standards of patient safety and care,” says Melanie Patterson, RN, MHA, DNP, vice president, patient care services and chief nursing officer, CHOC Children’s Hospital. “We are entrusted with caring for some of the sickest and most medically fragile patients, and our goal is to deliver the best possible outcomes for them and their families.”

About the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: Founded in 1969 and based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world. AACN joins together the interests of more than 500,000 acute and critical care nurses and claims more than 235 chapters worldwide. The organization’s vision is to create a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients and their families in which acute and critical care nurses make their optimal contribution. To learn more about AACN, visit www.aacn.org.

In the Spotlight: Robert B. Kelly, M.D.

A board-certified physician in pediatrics and critical care with clinical interests in pulmonary hypertension, ECMO, pediatric transport, global health, outreach and business has joined CHOC Children’s.

Dr. Robert Kelly is medical director of the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) and associate division chief and director of research and academics for the division of critical care at CHOC.

In his role, Dr. Kelly enjoys working in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and CVICU, as well as supporting one of CHOC’s goals in guiding research and educational opportunities for physicians and trainees.

“What makes our division special is our incredible diversity,” Dr. Kelly says. “Our group has an excellent mix of new and seasoned physicians from various training programs and prior experiences. From special interest and experience in CVICU and palliative care, to community PICU care and hospital administration, we are a varied group.”

Dr. Kelly attended medical school at Georgetown University School of Medicine, in Washington, D.C. He completed his pediatric residency at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, in Hershey, Penn.; and completed his pediatric critical care fellowship at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.

This dedicated physician has been fascinated with science and biology since he can remember, but he found his passion for pediatrics while in medical school.

“Taking care of children is the most rewarding aspect of my job because the challenges of dealing with patients who often cannot communicate their symptoms pushes me to constantly think, question and re-evaluate,” Dr. Kelly says. “I cannot think of anything more satisfying than being able to form a therapeutic relationship with a family, have a direct hand in the progression of their child’s recovery and then see so many of our patients return to visit the unit after discharge.”

One of Dr. Kelly’s goals is to help expand the capacity and capabilities of the CVICU to handle more complex surgical cases. The team recently added an expert CVICU nurse practitioner with excellent leadership and educational experience. Additionally, the team is working on protocolizing sedation and analgesia practices.

“I’m really excited about one of our latest projects, where we will be revamping daily bedside rounding to begin with nurse-led presentations,” Dr. Kelly says. “We believe this practice will make our care even more family-centered, while also empowering nurses to take a larger role in the care of their patients.”

Through the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Kelly has participated in several global health missions, including a recent trip to a tertiary academic PICU in Maputo, Mozambique, which he has been working with for many years to bring pediatric resuscitation training to its physicians, nurses and students.

“On the latest trip, I traveled to two referring hospitals to begin instruction on building a local pediatric transport system,” he says. “We plan on future trips to begin analyzing the demographics of pediatric transport among those three hospitals in order to measure the success of our interventions.”

Dr. Kelly is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

In his spare time, Dr. Kelly likes to spend time with his wife and daughter. He enjoys playing golf and taking vacations with his family to Hawaii, as well as watching the New York Mets and New York Giants.

CHOC PICU Honored for Exceptional Patient Care

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) recently conferred a gold-level Beacon Award for Excellence on the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at CHOC Children’s Hospital. This is the second time CHOC has earned the gold-level distinction.b logo-edit yr 09-10 1fThe Beacon Award for Excellence— honoring exceptional patient care and healthy work environments—recognizes PICU caregivers who successfully improve patient outcomes and align practices with AACN’s six Healthy Work Environment Standards. Units that achieve this three-year, three-level award with gold, silver or bronze designations meet national criteria consistent with Magnet Recognition, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the National Quality Healthcare Award.

Beacon Award logo

Beacon logo“The Beacon Award for Excellence recognizes caregivers in stellar units whose consistent and systematic approach to evidence-based care optimizes patient outcomes. Units that receive this national recognition serve as role models to others on their journey to excellent patient and family care,” explains AACN President Karen McQuillan, RN, MS, CNS-BC, CCRN, CNRN, FAAN.

CHOC’s PICU earned a gold award by meeting the following evidence-based Beacon Award for Excellence criteria:

  • Leadership structures and systems
  • Appropriate staffing and staff engagement
  • Effective communication, knowledge management, learning and development
  • Evidence-based practice and processes
  • Outcome measurement

About the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses: Founded in 1969, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the largest specialty nursing organization in the world. AACN joins together the interests of more than 500,000 acute and critical care nurses, and claims more than 235 chapters worldwide. The organization’s vision is to create a healthcare system driven by the needs of patients and their families in which acute and critical care nurses make their optimal contribution.

CHOC Experts Discuss Drowning Prevention

Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional, accidental death in children, two CHOC Children’s experts tell “American Health Journal.”

Drowning is completely preventable, and CHOC offers a robust water safety program, say Dr. Paul Lubinsky, a CHOC critical care specialist, and Michelle Lubahn, a community education coordinator at CHOC.

Learn more about drowning and its prevention in “American Health Journal,” a television program that airs on PBS and other national network affiliates that reach more than 40 million households. Each 30-minute episode features six segments with a diverse range of medical specialists discussing a full spectrum of health topics.

For more information, visit www.discoverhealth.tv.

Paul Lubinksy, M.D., served his internship at Groote Schuur Hospital and the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Capetown, South Africa. He served as chief resident at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange followed by a pediatric critical care fellowship at CHOC Children’s.