REGION — It’s sometimes called the longest walk a family can ever take — the several hundred feet between a hospital intensive care unit and an operating room where their family member will become an organ donor.
Tri-City Medical Center has implemented a program to make that walk a little easier on the surviving family.
It is called the “Honor Walk.”
All available hospital employees line the hospital hallway from the patient’s room in the ICU to the operating room, standing in solemn silence in a show of solidarity with the surviving family — with their permission, of course — as nurses slowly wheel the patient along the procession route of sorts.
Hospitals across the country since 2018 have adopted the walk as a dignified way of honoring the sacrifices of both the donor and their families.
Tri-City says that it is the first hospital countywide to host the ceremony.
Employees are not required to participate, but in the two walks that the hospital has performed since starting the program, hospital staff has come out in force.
“In their own way, these people are heroes, they are saving people’s lives,” said Merebeth Richins, Tri-City’s ICU, Telemetry and Pulmonary Services director.
Richins oversees the hospital’s organ donation efforts in partnership with Lifesharing, a state-authorized nonprofit organization that works with local hospitals, such as Tri-City, to coordinate organ and tissue donation, carrying out the final wishes of organ donors and their families.
“They are giving the gift of life to others who have been waiting years for a heart, lung or kidney,” Richins said.
The idea of beginning Honor Walks at Tri-City Medical Center was introduced by hospital staff members after learning about walks at other hospitals at a conference in January. The hospital hosted its first pair of walks in March and April for a man and woman donor respectively.
Richins said that in the case of the man, his mother played his favorite song along the processional route to the operating room.
“It makes me cry when I think about it,” Richins said. “We’re trying to show them respect. It’s really just amazing.”
Organ donors fill a critical health care need, as more than 113,000 people are on the transplant waiting list in the United States, 2,000 of them living in San Diego and Imperial counties.
Organ donation organizations estimate that 18 people per day will die waiting for a donor organ.
The honor walk is one of several programs Tri-City has implemented to recognize organ donors and their surviving families while raising the profile of the need of organ donors locally.
April is celebrated as national “Donate Life Month”, and Tri-City hosts a flag-raising ceremony where they invite donor families to attend. This flag raising ceremony is dedicated to the thousands of donor heroes from Tri-City who have given the gift of life and healing to others.
During the month of April, the hospital also hosts a Blue and Green Day where employees are encouraged to wear these colors for bringing awareness to registering to become an organ donor.
And during the holidays, they adorn a tree with ornaments from every donor family at the hospital.
“We’re bringing attention to the importance of being a donor, but also hopefully bringing a small sense of closure to the family,” said Celia Garcia, a spokeswoman with the public hospital. “Making them feel that while the tragedy did occur, it did bring some peace to another family, and that may help them through their grieving process.”