By David Cartier, External Fellow for the Organ Transplant System Project
OK, as of last Friday, my feet are somewhat back on the ground…As you might have guessed, I wasn’t in the blogosphere as this is my first post! I have been quite busy doing instant emersion in the world of transplantation and the problem and requirements are starting to come together.
First of all, I would never have thought I would be working for the government…ever! Slow, stodgy…the antithesis of innovation. That was my perception until I saw the post looking for Innovation Fellows using the words…“External Experts”, “Entrepreneurs”, “Innovative Approaches”, “Rapid Iteration”, “Risk Taking”. Seriously? Even if the government was serious about innovation, how could they even go there with a government mentality and infrastructure? Did it make sense to put my current start-up plans on hold? It only made sense if it was the perfect fit and…a chance to impact the lives of people…literally.
My initial perceptions were wrong. I am excited and surprised by the changing mentality in regards to innovation especially in HHS. I was also surprised and impressed by the dedication of people I am working with and for at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Department of Transplantation (DoT). The people here have a sincere desire to make a difference. I was fast tracked and on board in days thanks to the efforts of George Smith and leadership in HRSA and HHS. My travel plans have been coordinated by Passy and Tammy late at night and on the weekends! I was not expecting this “get it done” attitude. My experience has not been without challenges but quite honestly, I was expecting many more.
The project? This project addresses vulnerability within the labeling, packaging, and tracking system currently used to identify, transport, and monitor organs moved through the nation’s organ transplant system—the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). Tell anyone that we don’t track the organs and you get the same response…”You are kidding…right?” I will say that the entire process is complex, very complex but more on that in another post.
The stakeholders involved have thought about this problem for years. They have some great ideas and are working hard to help me understand as much as possible. Did you know that you shouldn’t say “harvest organs”? That is, unless you are procuring organs from unwilling participants!
Before I wrap up, here is a little background on me. I started my 24 year career at United Parcel Service (UPS) in Arizona and had opportunities to work in many functions and capacities during that time. I completed my BS and MBA at Arizona State before relocating to Atlanta as a Senior IT Analyst in UPS e-Ventures, a UPS incubator subsidiary. I continued my UPS corporate career with roles in; Package Operations Support, Industrial Engineering, Package Center of the Future and as a Region Director of IT Implementation and Support to name a few. I more recently worked as a consultant and entrepreneur in healthcare providing Electronic Medical Record Systems (EMR) product selection, implementation, support and reporting for medium and small sized ambulatory care facilities.
Oh! One more thing. I had the unfortunate experience to have first-hand knowledge of using the OPTN. On September 27th, 2004, a truck ran a red light t-boning the jeep my 38 year old brother was riding in. I immediately jumped on a plane from Atlanta to Phoenix for what would be the most emotional time in my life and, unfortunately, is easily replayed. Not all of it is completely clear though. When the Organ Procurement Coordinator met with my parents and I to discuss Dan’s wishes to donate his organs, it is kind of a blur. We all knew he would want to give. That was just Dan. We explained that to the coordinator. The fuzziness comes in on the exact details and timing of things. During the next seven days, there were three separate times where we thought he would die but didn’t. Each time things turned around, we all had hope he would pull out of it. He was strong and might just make it.
I have no idea when we actually spoke to the coordinator. I do remember being concerned that they seemed more concerned about getting Dan’s organs than they were about saving his life. Despite the assurances of the nurses and the OPO Coordinator, I was still skeptical. I didn’t trust them. As sweet and professional as the coordinator probably was, I didn’t like her. The fact was, she was getting her organs for my brother’s life.
After seven long days in a coma, my younger brother, Dan past away. They whisked him away to recover what they could. We were mentally and physically wiped out. We headed back to my brother’s house. We found out a few days later that they were able to recover his heart, liver and two kidneys. Four people would live because of him. Although that was nice…it didn’t mean very much to me at the time. It did however begin to resonate when I was preparing the eulogy.
As the numbness of the moment wore off, we began to appreciate the gift of life. We are truly thrilled that four people had a chance at life because of my brother’s gift. He continues to live through others. Three of the four donor families contacted my parents, thanking them and telling them how it changed their lives.
Fast forward eight years later, to today. I am blessed to be involved in the first of its kind External Innovation Fellow project that will truly change and save people’s lives. I have the privilege of working with really smart people who know the system, its faults and know we can do better. The skepticism and anger I had in the hospital although natural, was unfounded.
I could not possibly have seen how my transportation, healthcare, education and personal experience would come together in a more meaningful way. Two weeks ago, we received another letter from one of the kidney recipients again confirming the value of organ donation, the process and the people involved.