Together. Saving Lives.

Marissa Pate: A Nurse’s Encounter with Organ Donation

Marissa Pate at work

According to Gallup’s annual honesty and ethics poll, nursing maintained its status as the most trusted profession in America for the 22nd consecutive year. Marissa Pate, a day shift resource nurse in the Children’s Center at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, attributes this trust to nurses’ consistent presence during patients’ most challenging moments.

“I think that people trust and value nurses because we are the ones that are at the bedside during some of the worst times as well as some of the best,” said Pate. “Nurses don’t waver in times of need, they step up and show up for their patients and their families.”

Pate, who has worked at Cape Fear Valley since 2015, has supported many families over the years — but five years ago, one experience in particular touched her heart. 

“In December of 2019, a child was involved in a tragic car accident,” wrote Pate. “Despite the care team’s heroic efforts to save them, the child did not regain consciousness or the ability to breathe without support. They suffered brain death, and the family made the agonizing decision to donate their organs.” 

As a nurse, Pate had the unique honor of walking alongside both the family and the medical team. She chronicled her experience in a heartfelt essay and was subsequently rewarded with the Nurse Speak Award, presented by the CFVHS Nursing Congress. 

“Personally, this patient’s experience touched my heart so much,” said Pate. “I cried during the shift multiple times as I stepped out of the room for a break. My heart broke for what this mother had to endure. At one point I questioned if I was the right nurse for this family. When the mother thanked me during my care for the patient, I realized I was where I needed to be.”

Pate and her colleagues provided support to the family as they considered their options with the HonorBridge team. “My experience with HonorBridge as a nurse has been insightful,” said Pate. “This particular patient experience was a first for me. It was reassuring to see the support that the team showed this family, knowing they had just suffered so much loss.”

The most important role for healthcare professionals during this time, Pate says, is to be present with the family during their time of need. “It is our job to advocate for the family and patient, no matter their opinions on organ donation, and to answer any questions or educate them regarding the process.” 

Once the family had made their decision, the healthcare team and HonorBridge staff worked together in organizing CFVH’s inaugural pediatric Honor Walk— an opportunity to honor, commemorate, and celebrate the donor as they are transported to the operating room prior to organ procurement. 

“Once we arrived on the second floor and entered the long hall leading to the OR, my eyes filled with tears as I noticed all the Cape Fear Valley employees lining the hall to give honor to a patient they never even knew,” wrote Pate. “It was such an amazing moment. Once the patient arrived at the OR with the family by their side, tears fell, and smiles appeared. That was the moment I knew that we did the right thing for this patient and the family.” 

Honor Walks help give both the family and the healthcare team the closure they need — and Pate says the entire experience helped her “grow into the resource nurse I am today.” 

“I believe the experience had a positive impact on my perspective on organ donation,” said Pate. “I see organ donation in a different light. I feel that sometimes people view the team as only wanting organs, but the HonorBridge team came together to support any decision that the family made — regardless of the outcome. As a nurse, I would obviously never persuade anyone’s decision, but I would inform them that an unfortunate situation could be turned into a positive one for a family in need. I would tell them that their organs could save a little kid’s life, allow a parent to hug their baby, or a grandparent to see their grandchild get married.”

Pate’s insights underscore the significance of finding meaning in tragedy and highlight the potential for organ donation to bring solace to grieving families.

“Not every shift is going to bring complete joy and happiness,” wrote Pate. “But during the toughest times, there can be some good that shines through. I’m so thankful that this child’s death had meaning. They were able to help several families get more days with their loved ones who needed organs.”

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