Roy Mayfield, Senior Supervisor of Facilities and Tissue Recovery at Gift of Hope believes that while it may not be as popular in the media, tissue donation can be just as, if not more, lifesaving than organ donation. Tissue donors can save fire burn victims through providing skin grafts, they can also help restore sight, replace damaged heart valves, treat damaged limbs, provide new veins and arteries, ease severe joint pain, and give donor families the joy of knowing their loved ones helped others.
A MAN OF MANY HATS
When Roy started working with Gift of Hope 20 years ago, the organization was still in its formative stages. With only seven to eight staff members in the Illinois office, Roy ended up filling nearly every role imaginable with duties ranging from speaking with families about donation to coordinating organ and tissue cases, developing positive relations with local hospitals, ordering supplies and managing the organization’s public relations. He fell in love with the unique challenge of the position. 20 years later, Roy officially works as Senior Supervisor of Facilities and Tissue Recovery Services, but he still wears “little pieces of all these different hats.”
Roy remembers well the first time his request for donation was refused. “It was my 16th case as a requester asking families to consider organ donation,” he recalled. “The potential donor was a cornea recipient and declared brain-dead, so I felt quite certain that the family would donate. His wife refused me point blank. She told me I could sit there, talk all day and probably convince her, but her husband hadn’t wanted his own transplant, and he wouldn’t have wanted to donate. I knew that was that. I believe in my heart that donation is the right thing to do, but ultimately my job is all about honoring and respecting everyone in the process, especially the families. I still step into the role of Donation Specialist to speak with families about the opportunity to donate when needed. That’s probably one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done. But every day is different. It’s like juggling a ping-pong ball, a feather and a bowling ball: You never know what’s coming next.”
ADAPTABILITY IS KEY
Roy’s various roles have required incredible adaptability, a trait his current staff also needs. Roy’s primary responsibility now is managing Gift of Hope’s tissue teams that work out of the organization’s Springfield office and consist of both Tissue Recovery Coordinators and Tissue Recovery Technicians.
“The Tissue Recovery Coordinators are the team leads responsible for all communication surrounding the tissue donation process, from assessing potential donors’ medical records and setting up donor transportation to scheduling when donors arrive at our facility and leave for the funeral home,” Roy explained. “Tissue Recovery Technicians are responsible for being the experts in recovering tissue properly and restoring donors after tissue recovery before they’re transported to the funeral home so that, if the family wishes, an open casket service can be held.”
Since they work on a case-by-case basis with a range of donors, donor families, coroners and funeral service professionals, this team of 13 must be able to adapt to new situations at a moment’s notice. For this reason, Roy’s team members cross-train in their roles to improve proficiency and do whatever they can to honor the donation decision, especially in case of emergency.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS & HIGHER REWARDS
Throughout these changes and challenges, teamwork and a strong sense of mission undergird the work of Roy’s tissue recovery team. “We rely very heavily on each other,” he said. “And, above all, I make sure my team understands our mission and honors the donor’s gift. It can’t just be a job for them. We have high expectations and need strong team leaders. We must be able to trust each other and go the extra mile because we only get one chance with each donor. Gift of Hope asks extreme things of our people, but the reward is extraordinary.”
This reward is directly reflected in the millions of people across the country who benefit each year from tissue donation. “Up to 100 people can benefit from one tissue donor,” Roy explained. This can look like receiving just one cornea or 150 juvenile cartilage stem cells that are directly transplanted. The point is that many, many people can benefit.”
Ultimately, Roy knows that what he and his team are doing has an incredibly positive impact on the lives of countless donor families and tissue recipients. “The most fulfilling part of my current role is having a team that understands why they’re doing what they’re doing and who can trust my decisions because the choices we make directly impact donor families and transplant recipients,” Roy said. “We make the best decisions for the right reasons, and that is extremely rewarding. I believe I am part of a big team that makes miracles happen every day.”