Doctor dispels myth that organ donors are less likely to be saved

Posted at 9:48 PM, Nov 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-24 23:48:35-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- For many it's an easy choice to make, but there are some who believe if they say yes to organ donation then doctors won't try as hard to save them.

Fox 13 News spoke to experts who say that belief is based in myth rather than fact.

Brett and Nikki Michealis’ 5-month-old son died from sudden infant death syndrome. Together the couple made the decision to save others by donating Maximus' organs.

But Bret Michealis said when he was a teen, he and his siblings said no to being organ donors.

“Because it was half in jest and half not: we talked about being in an accident on the road and having paramedics come and see that, ‘We could save him, but he's marked as an organ donor so maybe we don’t save him and we save a bunch of other lives with his,’” Michealis said. “We joked about it, but, at the same time, it was a question.”

Doctor Shawn Smith is a neurointensivist at Intermountain Medical Center, and he cares for critically ill patients with brain and spinal injuries.

“First of all, with every patient across the board that comes in, we do everything we can to save their lives: no matter what,” Smith said.

Doctor Smith adds he and his staff don't even know if a patient is an organ donor when they are admitted.

"And this is true for hospitals across the country," he said. "We do everything that we can, and when a patient has passed away, that's really when the process of organ donation starts."

Before the organ donation team even gets involved, Dr. Smith says his job is to determine if a patient is brain-dead.

He said there is a definitive test called the apnea test, which will reveal if there is blood flow in the brain stem and throughout the brain.

“In a patient who is brain dead, we see no blood flowing into the brain, in fact, if there is blood present then that rules out brain death,” he said.

Michealis said even after he and his wife made the decision to donate their son's organs, the donation team made sure there was no pressure placed on them to do so.

“In the hospital we worked very closely with the doctors, with the nurses, and from the very beginning we said if it comes to that, we do want to donate his organs,” he said. “And they were very almost forceful saying, ‘Are you sure that's what you want to do?’”

To be an organ donor, all you need to do is say yes on your driver’s license or state ID card. You can also sign up by clicking here.

It’s also a good idea to let your family know of your decision, so your wishes can be carried out.