Updated: Dec 20, 2019
By: Sara Sheppard, HTL (ASCP)
As Histotechnologists we are passionate about helping patients, even though we may not see them face-to-face. Besides having a fantastic career where I know I am making a difference; I find volunteering for a cause I am passionate about adds to the rewarding feeling of helping others. Especially after a long and exhausting week at work, volunteering reminds me why I have a career in healthcare.
I started volunteering with LifeGift, an organ procurement organization in Texas, after my father received a life-saving heart transplant in May 2018. Before his transplant he received double bypass surgery, heart ablations, cardioversions, two different pacemakers, and implantable cardioverter-defibrillators. He was in end-stage advanced heart failure and was in desperate need of a transplant. My family was living with fear every minute as we waited for a call from the transplant center saying they found a heart. There is a shortage of registered organ donors and over 113,000 people are waiting for lifesaving transplants. I want others to have the same opportunity my father had, so I started volunteering to help raise awareness for the cause.
I spoke to high school classes about my father’s story and the importance of organ donation. One of the students had a question on the matching process of organ donors and recipients. I told them about the frozen section the pathologists perform for examining the viability of organs from a potential donor.
I also shared the information I knew about human leukocyte antigen matching that takes place in another area of the clinical laboratory. That interaction reminded me what I am a part of and the impact I make on a patient’s life. At a LifeGift volunteer holiday event, I met a heart and kidney recipient who had his transplants at the hospital I work for. He was fascinated to hear the histology processes that occur with removed organs from transplant because he questioned where his removed organs went. At another volunteer event, I was volunteering with another Histotechnologist who happens to be a kidney recipient. It was such a coincidence because there are not many of us Histotechnologists out there! Since the typical person has no idea what a Histotechnologist is and sometimes it seems easier just to say, “I work in a lab”, our conversation went something like this:
“So, what do you do for a living?”
“I work in a lab.”
“Oh! Me too!”
“I work in a pathology lab as a histotech.”
“Oh, wow! Me too! What a small world!”
It has been rewarding to see my two passions overlap from all these experiences. In February 2019, I wrote a post Donate Life featured on their social media accounts which reflects how these two worlds meet and the meaning it provides to me:
"This might sound a little cheesy – since I basically whispered to a stained slide of liver today…In the pathology lab whenever I see stained slides of tissue from a deceased donor (for the process of matching the donor with a recipient) I can’t help but to whisper out ‘thank you’ as I say the person’s name in my head while I think to myself ‘you are saving a life.’ As much as I love being behind the scenes in healthcare as a histotechnologist, it feels like I am missing a story about the patient since I have no interactions with them or their family like nurses do. I might know nothing about the patient but with donors it’s cathartic to know that they decided to give the gift of life. Just that alone tells a lot about a person. My father received a heart transplant May 2018 and every day I thank the donor and everyone in the medical field that made it happen. I also think about everyone behind the scenes who works in a lab like I do that help with the matching process. Everyone in the organ donation and transplant process has a crucial role in saving lives. I will be forever thankful to the people who helped with my father's heart transplant and forever grateful for the role I have in helping others."
As health care professionals we have a desire to help others. We can fill that desire by working directly with patients and indirectly by having a role as a laboratory professional. Finding an organization to volunteer with can help fill that desire further. Working as a Histotechnologist and volunteering with LifeGift brings meaning to my life as I help others through the work I do and the time I give volunteering.