21. What happens during the donation surgery?

The body is transported to a sterile operating room and is prepared in a sterile manner just like a person having a major operation. On the way to the operating room from the intensive care unit, the donor's body remains hooked up to a blood pressure and EKG monitor. A portable ventilator may be used, hooked up to an oxygen tank that can be wheeled down to the operating room with the donor. All of the donor's IV's are continued, providing fluids and medications to maintain the organs until surgeons remove the organs that were donated.

Once the donor is in the operating room, the body is moved to the operating table. The body is prepared with a sterilizing scrub, sterile drapes are placed around the chest and abdomen, and the operation begins. There is an anesthesiologist present to monitor the blood pressure and fluids, although no anesthetic needs to be given since the person is already dead (and thus cannot feel pain). Up to five surgical teams may be present, sometimes operating simultaneously, along with scrub nurses, circulating nurses, and organ donation technicians who are responsible for getting the ice-cold preservation solutions ready to instill into the donor to cool and protect the donated organs when they are removed. The surgeons carefully inspect the donated organs, again making sure that they look acceptable for transplantation. Once the organs are removed, the ventilator is turned off and the incisions are closed. At this point, the body is sent to the hospital morgue and is released to the funeral home.

As the organs are removed from the donor's body, they are immediately placed in ice-cold preservation solution and then packaged in sterile containers for the trip to the recipient's hospital. Each organ is accompanied by extensive paperwork documenting the details of the donor's history and medical tests and the findings at the time of the donation surgery.

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