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Posted April 29th, 2016 under Personal View

A Social Worker's Perspective

Tags: social work, transplant, organ donation, a charitable life, san antonio methodist, texas transplant institute

A Social Worker's Perspective

This blog was written based on an interview with Katie Haney, one of the clinical social workers from San Antonio Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital, Texas Transplant Institute.  She works as a liaison between ACL and the transplant clinic in order to help allocate funds used to help transplant donors and recipients.

Sometimes, our darkest times in life help guide us to find the light. They propel us in the direction we are supposed to go in order to make a difference in the world. This statement rings true for Katie Haney, one of the clinical transplant social workers affiliated with ACL. Speaking with her, it is hard to imagine that she had any challenges in her upbringing. However, it is her past experiences that have made her the wise and grounded woman she is today. Like so many other children, Katie and her younger sister had to survive in a family where substance abuse and mental illness were prevalent.  The love, support, and encouragement of extended family, teachers, and mentors allowed them to overcome various hardships.  Katie’s family was referred to a clinical social worker for therapy and the compassion and skill of this therapist truly healed her family.  This is what inspired Katie to pursue a career in social work, and she has never looked back.

Katie attended Penn State University in pursuit of her undergraduate degree where she worked with a professor of geropsychology (psychologist who specializes in working with a geriatric population) and conducted research in gerontology and human sexuality. Katie ultimately graduated with a degree in applied psychology. When she went on to graduate school she was accepted into a dual degree program, which was a doctorate in human sexuality and a masters degree in social work. She realized early on specializing in human sexuality was not her passion. Following her heart, she discontinued the doctorate curriculum and focused on her Masters degree in Social Work (MSW), completed internships in end of life care and emergency medicine, and moved to San Antonio to work in hospice care.

After a seven year position working in hospice care, a casual conversation with a friend who suggested she switch her perspective and focus on renewal of life instead of end of life by switching to working with transplant patients, sent Katie on another new path. This conversation was the catalyst that began her journey of working with transplant patients and clinically evaluating their readiness to be organ donors and recipients. Katie quickly fell in love with the science behind transplantation and the huge impact that this science has on people’s lives. The Texas Transplant Institute is the number one transplant center in the nation and the volume in which they are able to change lives astounds Katie every day. When she describes a typical day, the obvious elation in her voice is contagious. Her motto for care for her patients is to empower them and perform her job in a very logical and methodical way while maintaining compassion.

Although everyday is jam packed from start to finish, Katie loves her job and the difference she is able to make in people’s lives. A typical day working as a social worker with transplant patients starts early in the morning with interviews with possible organ donors. Donors are assessed medically, however, Katie is responsible for evaluating their social and emotional readiness to donate an organ. She devotes time to finding out why they are interested in donating an organ, to whom they are donating, and exploring how organ donation will impact their personal and professional lives. Her job is to make sure that the donors are not being pressured and that they understand the magnitude of the decision to donate an organ. She conducts a comprehensive clinical evaluation before the donors have been medically cleared. The first step is deciding if they will be emotionally able to cope with the process and make sure the possible donor’s intentions are psychologically appropriate. A donor’s recovery period can be anywhere from three weeks to eight weeks, depending on the physical demands in their work and personal lives.  They are given extensive education about the possibility of medical complications, the surgical procedure, recovery time, medication, diet changes that may need to be modified, and ample time is given to answer all questions.  The expectation is that donors will return to their normal productive lives. They must have support medically, socially, and psychologically to make them possible candidates. This financial and time burden is often overlooked and Katie is always sure to cover these circumstances with the potential donor.  Katie also evaluates potential organ recipients and their readiness to receive an organ. Many assume that the receipt of an organ is easy because it promises new life, Katie knows all too well that this is not the case.  She evaluates them on many levels, including financial readiness, their ability to travel, and makes sure they have family or a support system to help them post-transplant. The decision to clear both organ donors and recipients requires elaborate psychological and medical screening with many different levels.

In a perfect situation, where there is a need, there are available resources and sufficient help. However, one of the hardest aspects of Katie’s job is seeing the poverty and lack of resources that keep patients from getting what they need. That is where ACL has come in and been an angel for some of San Antonio Methodist’s transplant patients. Katie recalls times when ACL has helped kidney patients get hotel rooms near the hospital. For these patients, having a hotel room near the hospital was the factor that bridged the gap between getting their kidney or not getting their kidney. She remembers a liver patient whose extended support system fell through the cracks right after his scheduled transplant and he did not know how he would get from his hotel to his appointments at the hospital. ACL rented him a car so his wife could drive him to and from the hospital.  Without that car, he would not have been able to return to his clinic appointments or get his crucial labs done, which ultimately could have resulted in him being at very high risk for liver rejection. During a time in life where insurance premiums come at the highest of costs, ACL has stepped in and paid insurance premiums for six months for a pre-liver transplant patient. Without this assistance, this gentleman could not have been added to the liver transplant waitlist and he would not have received his liver. He has since received his liver and has gone on to live a happy and productive life.  Additionally, ACL has helped supplement medication costs for crucial medications not covered by insurance that have essentially kept recipients alive. Simple donations such as gas cards, groceries, and paying expenses that cannot be covered due to the time recipients need to take off work help immensely.

Many people think about the big picture when it comes to organ transplants and the vast costs associated with the entire process, however, there are so many small costs that add up and even a small donation can help a person get closer to having the possibility of renewal of life. Oftentimes, it is the little details that are vital. Small gestures can make big things happen and save lives. Katie encourages everyone to consider donating because anything and everything can and will make a difference. Additionally, she encourages considering giving the gift of life by becoming an organ donor.  Simply put, there is nothing more powerful than giving the gift of life.  


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