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Tthough the death of a human being is sad, it also offers an opportunity for what is often called “the gift of life” through organ and tissue donation. Organ donation is by far the more complex process and requires a full surgical team. Tissue recovery for donation, however, can often be accomplished by a single individual, known as a tissue recovery technician.
A Surgical Profession
Tissue recovery technicians typically begin their careers as surgical technicians, ophthalmic technologists or in similar occupations that include experience in aseptic technique and surgical procedures. A knowledge of anatomy is also mandatory. The technician is trained on the job and learns how to recover tissues, bone and corneas for transplantation purposes. Certification is available for this field, although not required for practice. Each state regulates the practice of health care and specific requirements for tissue recovery technicians may vary from one state to the next.
Standing By For Recovery
The tissue recovery technician is typically on call for patient deaths that involve the possibility of tissue donation. When a tissue bank is notified of a potential donor’s death, the technician is dispatched to the hospital, funeral home or medical examiner’s office. She will take all necessary tools and equipment with her. She must confirm that the patient authorized tissue donation before death or that the family has consented to the procedure in the event the patient did not express his wishes.
Information, Infection and Identification
One of her first tasks is to collect and document information about the patient, such as a medical history, a record of treatments or medications used and the results of laboratory tests that might affect the use of the corneas, bone or tissue. She may request that certain lab tests be performed to rule out the possibility of infectious diseases such as hepatitis or HIV-AIDS. She will confirm the patient’s identity and assign him a unique identifier for tissue bank purposes. Throughout the process, the technician maintains the confidentiality of the patient record.
Recovery is a Delicate Task
Next, the technician prepares the patient for tissue recovery. The technician will wear sterile garb, disinfect the operative area, and maintain sterile technique throughout the procedure. Throughout the process she must be careful to label specimens, package and store them properly to ensure the tissue will be viable and safe for use. When the recovery procedure is finished, the technician will restore the patient’s body by suturing incisions or performing similar tasks prior to releasing the body to a funeral home.
Some technicians transport the patient’s body to the funeral home. The technician cleans her equipment, packs it in carrying containers and returns it to the tissue bank, where she may perform further cleaning or maintenance. After the tissues have been recovered, the tissue recovery technician typically takes them back to the tissue bank, where any further processing is completed. The technician must document each step of the process to ensure accurate records and correctly identify the patient and specimens.
- United Network for the Recruitment of Transplant Professionals: Tissue Recovery
- South Dakota Lions Eye and Tissue Bank: Tissue Recovery Technician
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Surgical Technologists
- American Association of Tissue Banks: Certification
- American Association of Tissue Banks: Steps in the Tissue Donation Process
- Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network: Clinical Tissue Recovery Technician (2 positions)
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.