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The eyes have it at St. Joseph’s Hospital

St. Joseph’s General Hospital’s eye donation team had the highest percentage of donors per death rate for a B.C. hospital last year. From left, medical team Steve Hill, Rosie Chrest, Denise Bagmet, Chris Koppa, Joanne Trithardt, Brian Ducedre and Leah Zboyovsky.  - Photo by Renée Andor
St. Joseph’s General Hospital’s eye donation team had the highest percentage of donors per death rate for a B.C. hospital last year. From left, medical team Steve Hill, Rosie Chrest, Denise Bagmet, Chris Koppa, Joanne Trithardt, Brian Ducedre and Leah Zboyovsky.
— image credit: Photo by Renée Andor

The St. Joseph’s General Hospital eye donation team is ranked number one in the province again.

The hospital’s team had the highest percentage of donors per death rate for all hospitals in B.C. in 2011, carrying on its rank as number one from 2010.

The eye donation team received 31 eye donations which gave sight back to 55 people in total in 2011.

Brian Ducedre, hospital chaplain, said the ability to give sight through these donations is what drives the team.

“Our inoculation team here at St. Joe’s is very passionate about eye donation because we know that up to six people can benefit from one donation,” said Ducedre. “So six people could receive vision from one donation.”

Eye donation recipients do not require the entire eye; rather, grafts are taken of parts of the eye. The 31 donations to St. Joe’s turned into 35 corneal grafts and 20 scleral grafts in 2011.

Licensed practical nurse Rosie Chrest has been on the eye donation team for 18 years.

According to her, the team has 16 hours to get a donation to the Eye Bank in Vancouver from the time of death.

The team must be ready to go at all hours of the day and night in order to finish everything in time for that deadline — and while they’re sometimes already on shift when they get the call, sometimes they’re at home sleeping, too.

However, Chrest said it’s all worth it, and noted that Comox Valley families are very open to making the donation on behalf of their deceased loved one, even though it’s a difficult time for them.

“It’s their way of giving something back on a loss, and it’s really nice to see and hear, and you know, I don’t think I’ve ever had anybody just literally say ‘no forget it,’” explained Chrest. “It’s a way to cover some of that loss.”

Most people aged 75 or younger can donate, and it doesn’t matter if they wear glasses explained Ducedre.

The eye donation team usually speaks to families before their loved one is deceased and there’s a screening process, plenty of paperwork and many other tasks the team goes through for each eye donation.

If someone is interested in pre-arranging their eye donation, Ducedre said they can speak to their doctor. If they do this, the information will go onto their medical chart, and — while the family still needs to consent at the time of death — it may make the decision easier for their family later.

“I think it makes it easier for the family because they know that their loved one has made their own decision and they’re not making it on their behalf,” explained Ducedre.

The Eye Bank of B.C.’s Shannon Leonard said she’s grateful for the team’s efforts, and put the work they do in perspective with an example.

“We had a patient who was unable to drive and (could) no longer attend school. Following their corneal transplant, they were able to start driving again and finish school,” she said. “This is a life-changing gift that the community of Comox has given to all British Columbians.”

As for why this small team has been able to receive so many donations for the size of hospital it operates in, both Ducedre and Chrest used the word “dedication.”

“I think we just have a dedicated team,” said Chrest. “We strive for dedication and perfection.”

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