HAWAII AT WORK
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mari Ushiroda, family services coordinator at the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii, took notes last week as she talked to various staff and doctors at Straub Hospital, where she was visiting with a family that had just had a loved one die.
Social worker tries to find good in normally devastating situations
Mari Ushiroda helps people leave a legacy that will live on through others
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Who: Mari Ushiroda|
Title: Family services coordinator
Job: Helps families decide whether to donate organs of their loved ones
Mari Ushiroda was at Straub Hospital last week to comfort and talk with a family about the sudden death of a relative when we spoke over the phone about her role as family services coordinator for the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii.
Ushiroda explained that she helps such families with their grief while deliberating with them about whether to donate the organs and tissue of their loved ones so that others potentially may live.
One of 25 full- and part-time employees of the nonprofit Organ Donor Center of Hawaii, which she joined in May of last year, Ushiroda said she finds meaning in facilitating good out of otherwise devastating situations.
The job can be stressful, however, so she is attentive about taking care of her own needs.
"When you work in this area, grief work, it's a lot about self-care," she said. "So I strive for some life balance, like going running, yoga, getting back into surfing, and also I love arts and crafts - painting, making videos, little documentaries."
Ushiroda joined the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii while still working on her master's degree in social work from Hawaii Pacific University, where she was part of the school's first graduating class in the new program. Before joining the center, she was interning in bereavement at St. Francis Hospice.
She earned her bachelor's degree, in communication, from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., which she attended after graduating from Baldwin High School on Maui, where she was born and raised.
Ushiroda is 26 and lives in the Honolulu area.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mari Ushiroda is always on call in her job as family services coordinator for the Organ Donor Center of Hawaii. Above, Ushiroda talked at Straub Hospital last week with RN Shelly Jacobs, bottom left, John Valdivia, transplant coordinator, and Dr. Joseph Vierra, right, about a potential organ donor at the hospital.
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What is your job title?
Mari Ushiroda: Family services coordinator.
Q: What does that mean you do?
A: That means a lot of things, I guess. Mainly providing support to potential donor families in the hospitals, during the time that they are going through a sudden death. I also talk to the families about donations, getting them the information to help them make an informed decision. I just kind of walk them through the process as another support person.
Q: What kind of decision are they being asked to make?
A: We don't have very many possible donors to begin with, so when someone has suffered a neurological injury, a severe injury to their brain, and brain death has occurred, if they are a candidate for donations, then I will be involved as another support person, and families then have the opportunity to donate their loved one's organs and tissue to help others, to save lives potentially.
Q: Do people come to you, or do you have to go out and solicit organ donations?
A: We have a public education department that goes out into the schools, and community health fairs, and they give information to the public about being an organ donor and encouraging people to talk to their families about what their wishes are, in case something unfortunate were to happen.
So that's before. What my role is, during the unfortunate situation, right as it happens, I'm involved. So I go to all the hospitals in Hawaii, the neighbor islands included.
Q: How may visits like that do you make?
A: It varies. It's really hard to say.
Q: How about an average per week?
A: An average per week, if I can remember correctly, it can be anywhere from, I guess, maybe one to four or five or six. It's really hard to say.
Q: So how long does this kind of counseling, or whatever it's called, with the families last?
A: Right, grief counseling. It's all during the time that they're in the hospital. So I'm additional support to, like, the social workers, the chaplains, the nurses and doctors, and I'm just part of that team.
Q: You consulted with a family this morning.
A: Correct. Right now I'm at the hospital.
Q: You sound kind of stressed.
A: I haven't talked to the family yet. I'm in the middle of that. It's a very delicate and sensitive process, even before meeting the family.
Q: Are the donors always aware that they were, in fact, donors?
A: No. Sometimes they have it on their license, so that makes it easier for families to make a decision, because they know what their loved ones' wishes were, and they want to honor those wishes. Other times people may not put it on their licenses for various reasons, but if they talked about it before, that helps. They think about what their loved one would want to do, when given the opportunity to help someone. Not many of us have a chance to be a hero to save lives. This is their chance. It's a way for their loved one to leave a legacy.
Q: Do hospitals notify you when someone is about to die so you can work with them?
A: Yes, hospitals refer patients that meet the criteria to be a possible organ donor. They will call the Organ Donor Center. We have transplant coordinators who will then review each referral, and they'll determine whether or not this person may be a candidate for donations. There are some medical and social criteria that go into being a candidate.
Q: On a more bureaucratic note, is there a lot of paperwork to fill out when you're doing these kinds of things?
A: There is a form to fill out by the family that authorizes what they want to donate. It gets very specific, so families will say, whatever you can use to help others, please do, including research. So it's really up to the family, and what they want to donate. Other than that, the only other form is a medical history and a social history, which helps us find the best possible matches.
Q: What kinds of human organs are in highest demand? Do you look at it that way?
A: No. But the organs in highest demand are kidneys. Here in Hawaii we have, I think, almost 400 people on the waiting list, approximately. The next would be livers.
Q: Do you have to have any medical background to do your job?
A: To do my job as a family services coordinator, no. But I've learned a lot about the medical, like brain death. I've learned on the job. I came in with some experience in grief and bereavement - social work - so I understand a lot about family dynamics during this time of loss, how sensitive it is for families.
Q: What brought you to work for the center?
A: I've always wanted to help others, and social work, there's so many things you can do with social work, and I found that the area in grief and bereavement, in particular, really speaks to me. Plus, I'm able to not only handle the emotion at this time, but also I really care for others who are going through this really difficult time. I have some personal experience with family loss.
Q: Don't we all, yeah?
A: Right. Like, one of my uncles died suddenly of a stroke and became an organ donor, and this was as I was getting hired here. So I guess I can add both perspectives (when talking with families) - from the Organ Donor Center and my own.
Q: What's the best part of your job?
A: Oh, the best part is - wow - just knowing that the family has some hope, that they're comforted, that I can share it with them, knowing that their loved one may have potentially helped others, that in a devastating situation that there is some good that can come out of it.
Q: What do you do when you're back at the office?
A: Oh, I'm following up on the recipients, getting information about the donors' recipients and writing letters to the families of the donors, sharing with them and telling them about who their loved one has just saved. Not any identifying names but things like how old they are, where they live, or if they have a family, what they do for a living, what some of their plans are, what their hobbies and interests are. That's real. You see the outcome.
And I love that part because it's about the good that came out of the donation.
Q: Is this a seven-day-a-week job?
A: We are actually looking to hire a second person. (Laughter) It is an on-call job that requires a lot of flexibility. I work 12 days and I'm off two days right now. I'm looking to share this with another person. But, yeah, I can get a call; sometimes I may know the night before that we may have something pending and to be ready the next morning to fly to a neighbor island, perhaps. But most of the time you don't get that. I don't have that heads up. So I just have to drop whatever I'm doing and go right away. That's my priority, so it's all hours - early morning to late at night. That's just the nature of the job, but to me it's really meaningful.