South Florida Hospital News
Wednesday November 20, 2019
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October 2006 - Volume 3 - Issue 4

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Nancy Gehrig-LaFrance Named Nurse of the Year by Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency

Organ transplantation is one of the greatest success stories of modern medicine.

It is generally viewed as an exchange between two parties Ė a donor and a recipient, plus their families. Usually, they are strangers whose lives intersect in this exceptionally intimate and meaningful way; one unknowingly bestows the gift of life and renewed health, and one accepts that gift, with gratitude and wonder.

In between those two ends of the spectrum, between giver and receiver, there are numerous others who play a critical role in the complex, transformative world of organ transplantation. This small army of surgeons, nurses, OR technicians, counselors, coordinators, pilots and many others facilitates the process in a variety of ways, making the transplant happen and assuring its successful outcome. Those people are the vital link, bridging the gap between those in need of transplants, and those who are potential organ and tissue donors.


Photo courtesy of Portraits by Kenia

One of those vital links is Nancy Gehrig-LaFrance, RN, BSN, assistant nurse manager in the Adult ICU/Trauma Unit at Broward General Medical Center. LaFrance was honored this summer by the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency (LAORA), an organ-procurement agency affiliated with the University of Miami. LAORA selected LaFrance to receive their Nurse of the Year Luminare Award for her extraordinary efforts in support of LAORAís mission to save lives through transplantation. LaFrance, along with other individual health care professionals, groups and institutions, was presented with her award at the Annual Luminare Awards Gala in September.

Being named as Luminare Nurse of the Year came as a surprise to LaFrance. "I was aware of the Luminare awards and attended the gala three years ago," she says, "when my unit was given an award. My husband knew and he had arranged for some of our friends to be there. It was a wonderful experience."

LaFrance has worked for eighteen years on the busy ICU/Trauma unit. "I love working here. Itís clinically challenging and I enjoy the technology and caring for the patients. Many are young, healthy people and seeing them recover is rewarding. Unfortunately, some of the patients admitted are severely injured and will not recover. But they have healthy organs. I always try to anticipate which patients are potential donors. The nurses at the bedside are focused on stabilizing and caring for the patient, but as assistant nurse manager, I can be more objective and see the bigger picture. I also have the opportunity to spend more time with the families."

Supporting and communicating with families, says LaFrance, is an essential aspect of caregiving in the trauma unit. "Itís a role that I often assume, because itís a tough one, especially for newer nurses. The families are devastated and want to tell us their personal story - who this patient is, what kind of person he or she is. They bring in photo albums and itís very emotional. Families needs are individual, but they all need to be heard, to express their grief and anger, and to feel that we care about them and their loved one."

LaFrance says that family members will often approach a nurse first to talk about organ donation. "Once they realize that there is brain death, and they are going to lose their loved one, they want to talk about it. If we have a relationship with them, they trust us. Some families are resistant, and need time, support and respect. The organ procurement professionals approach the families with sensitivity, offering them a chance to make a life saving difference for someone else."

As a nurse working with organ donation and transplantation, LaFrance believes that she has an especially fulfilling role, as witness to what she calls "the full circle of donation." Some of her patients have suffered catastrophic trauma and are dying, but she cares for them knowing that something positive may come from their deaths. "We do liver transplants now, and so we actually get to see the same liver in two different patients. Before, we would see the organs taken away and although we knew they were going somewhere to be transplanted, now it happens here and we care for the transplant patients. It gives the experience more personal meaning and a closure that was missing before."

According to Karen Garcia, Director of Community and Hospital Services for LAORA, "Nancy was chosen due to her unwavering commitment and dedication to organ donation, demonstrated during several cases this past year. Nancy is always so supportive of our mission to save lives through organ donation and does whatever she can to facilitate the process, all the while comforting bereaved families. She is a true Donation Champion offering hope to those who await lifesaving organ transplants."

Being a nurse is deeply satisfying to the mother of two, who works nights so she can be available to her family during the day. "There are few professions where one can be so close to life and death. Nurses are the front line for the patient and we intercede on their behalf. My years here have given me a level of expertise and credibility, and I feel that I am at an intuitive level of nursing. I try to mentor younger nurses, to teach and serve as a role model. It takes time to develop the clinical and interpersonal skills for this job."

LaFrance encourages family and friends to sign donor cards. "There are still many thousands of people in need of organs. I often think about these people, going to dialysis, taking their meds, being sick for so long. When I am working with a donor patient, I am reminded that somewhere, someone is waiting. And someone is getting that phone call."

For a donor card or more information, contact the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency at (800) 232-2892 or visit www.laora.med.miami.edu.

Nancy Gehrig-LaFrance can be reached at ngehriglafrance@nbhd.org.

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