Transplant nurses help give the gift of life

April 28, 2023 Swedish Transplant Team


In this article:

  • Transplant nurses provide specialized care for patients who are receiving or donating organs via a transplant procedure. They are an integral part of the transplant team.

  • Transplant Nurses Week on April 24 – May 1 offers an opportunity to celebrate transplant nurses and the invaluable role they play in their patients’ lives.

  • Two transplant nurses at the Swedish Organ Transplant Center talk about their specialty and discuss what makes it so rewarding to share the gift of life.

Nationally, more than 42,000 organ transplant procedures were performed last year, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Each of them was made possible by the selfless contribution of families and loved ones who chose to share the gift of life – often during their worst moments. And although every donor can save up to eight lives and enhance over 75 more, 17 people a day die while waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant.

The first kidney transplant took place in 1954, followed by liver, heart and pancreas transplants in the late sixties. By the 1980s, lung and intestinal implants were added to the list of life-saving procedures for people whose own organs could no longer function properly. And transplant nurses were there for their patients every step of the way.

Transplant Nurses Week is April 24 through May 1. The annual event offers the opportunity to celebrate the many contributions transplant nurses make in the lives of transplant patients and their loved ones.

We talked to Deb Evdemon and Chelsey McMaster, two transplant nurses at the Organ Transplant Center at Swedish, about the unique type of care they provide. Both agree their specialty is in a field all its own. And they wouldn’t change a thing.

“Transplant nursing is its own subspecialty. You see the whole picture. It’s not just someone who’s having surgery and here for a brief time. You get to know patients from beginning to end and develop those relationships. It’s a special specialty to be in,” says Chelsey, who works with liver transplant patients.

“We’re the point person for the patients while they’re evaluated for transplant and throughout the waiting time before a transplant is available,” says Deb, who works with kidney transplant patients. “You’re with them for many years, so you really get to know them. And they definitely rely on you to help them throughout the transplant process.”

Giving the gift of life

The first organ transplant at Swedish Medical Center took place in 1972 and several thousand people have received live-saving transplant procedures since. The Swedish Organ Transplant Program offers kidney, liver and pancreas transplants and ongoing care for advanced liver and kidney disease.

The program uses a collaborative approach that combines leading-edge medical and surgical interventions with compassionate, individualized care. Transplant nurses are valued members of the team.

“We spend a lot of time educating our patients and their families. They need to know how to care for that kidney or liver,” says Deb. “There is testing and follow-up that needs to be done regularly. They’re going to be seen frequently. They’ll have a lot of medication changes. The physician makes those, but nurses will relay the information and details to patients and answer their questions.”

Caring for family members and other caregivers can often be a large part of a transplant nurse’s day.

“At times, I deal with the patient’s family more than the patient. My patients are usually very ill. They’re confused. They feel very tired and sleep a lot during the day,” says Chelsey. “Educating the family is a big factor in the care we provide.”

There is no “typical” day when you’re a transplant nurse, say Chelsey and Deb. Their roles vary according to patient needs and what each day brings.

“Once our patients get referred here for a transplant, they go through an education class, either online or in person. Then they come in for their evaluation and meet the transplant team,” says Deb. “At their initial appointments, we typically do the blood work they need for transplant. We give them instructions for testing and help them make any necessary appointments.

“It’s the nurse’s responsibility to present the patient’s details to the selection committee to determine if they’re a good candidate for transplant. If they’re approved, then the nurses are the ones who list them on the national list. We’re the first contact point for them to let us know their questions or that there’s been a change to their medical conditions,” Deb adds.

Building relationships 

The relationship between a transplant nurse and their patient is a special bond.

“You build lasting relationships with these people while they’re waiting for a transplant because they're under your care for many years. It’s nice to form those relationships because you really start to understand the patients in a more profound way,” says Deb. “I'm like the middleman between the physicians and the patient. I’m your advocate. And that’s a huge thing for me.

“Some patients can’t speak for themselves. They don't feel comfortable doing that. As their advocate, I can guide them in the right direction and help them find their voice,” says Chelsey. “It's a gratifying field when patients do get their transplant. To see that new joy and the lease on life for patients gives me so much happiness. It’s very rewarding.”


Learn more and find a provider

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction, and follow up as needed. If you need to find a provider, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

Related resources

 The desire to help is in nurses’ DNA

New research evaluates the safety of transplants from organ donors that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2

Swedish Digestive Health Institute

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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