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Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School

Graduate Nursing

First Advisor

Sharon Hofland


donation of organs, organ donors


Families of organ donors have faced a deeply emotional experience. These individuals have not only experienced the loss of a family member, they have also consented to donate their family member's organs. The purpose of this study was to determine from a donor family perspective how the organ donation process was experienced. Subjects were 89 families who had agreed to donate organs from a brain dead family member during the calendar year of 1994. The family members surveyed were the family members of donor(s) whose organ(s) were successfully placed with a waiting recipient. All of the families were served by the organ procurement organization called Life Source that operates within the states of South Dakota, North Dakota, portions of Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
The research tool contained questions regarding the decision about donation, follow-up support, and demographic information about the family member answering the survey. The survey was mailed to the family members 13 to 15 months after the organ donor's death.
Results indicated that family members were generally positive about the donor experience. Most family members did not offer any suggestions to change the organ donation process. Family members ranked their most important reasons to agree to donation. The top two ranked responses were, (a) to make something positive come out of the death, and (b) to help someone else have a better quality of life.
Family respondents perceived that the most positive aspects of donation included, (a) being able to help another family, and (b) that the family member's death was not in vain. Responses to the most difficult aspects of donation were, (a) dealing with the reality of death, and (b) waiting for brain death to be declared. In addition, respondents also stated that the follow-up of phone calls, letters and cards received from LifeSource was appreciated and comforting.
This sample's mean age was 47 years. The age range was 22 to 74 years. The majority of respondents were either spouse or parent to the donor. Most of the respondents' religious affiliation was either Protestant or Roman Catholic.
Many of the research findings of this study supports results obtained by authors previously conducting research on the donor family member's perception of the organ donation experience. This data, however, is only applicable to the population served by LifeSource and due to the small sample size can not be generalized to other population groups elsewhere.
The findings can be used to help nurses involved in the organ donation process to anticipate needs of donor family members during this experience. By understanding which aspects of the donation are important, positive or difficult, the nurse can attempt to offer information in these areas to alleviate questions or concerns in the future.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Donation of organs, tissues, etc
Organ donors



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


Copyright © 1996 Victoria Schallenkamp. All rights reserved