Todd Hart saves lives by taking care of organs from the second they leave the donor until the moment they reach the recipient prepped for a lifesaving transplant.
As an Organ Recovery Specialist at Gift of Life Michigan, Todd works with surgeons when the heart, liver, lungs or kidneys are removed from a generous donor, then escorts the gift or gifts to the transplant center and delivers the organ minutes before the patient receives a transplant.
His job has taken him all over Michigan and to states in the Midwest and East Coast. Each time he drives or flies, Todd is acutely aware that he’s responsible for new life.
“It’s exhilarating and cool to find out you have to get that precious cargo to Illinois or Maine. You fly in and see the beautiful skyline and know you’re there for a purpose – to help at least one person receive a gift,” Todd said.
“And as soon as you’re there, you walk into the OR, hand it to the nurse for verification and that organ is transplanted within minutes,” he said. “It’s all timed perfectly, and it’s a seamless transition. This job is so rewarding.”
Before the trip is when Todd’s clinical work transpires: “I’m the surgeon’s right-hand man,” he said. “I help them help people.”
Once the organ or organs are surgically removed from the donor, Todd and his colleagues with similar roles flush the organ with special solutions and electrolytes that help keep it healthy and viable until transplant. Organ recovery specialists also cool organs with ice before they’re transported in coolers. Kidneys are often placed on portable pumps.
Todd and his co-workers do similar work with organs that are donated for valuable research and education, which he says is rewarding because those organs often help more than just one person.
Michael Moore, who manages Organ Recovery Services (ORS) at Gift of Life, said Todd is a determined, positive, problem solver whose vast experience as a surgical scrub technician has given him valuable skills for the ORS position he’s held for three years.
“He understands the unpredictability of donation and works hard to make it happen,” Michael said. “He says, ‘How can we make this work?’ And when people are frustrated or tired, Todd is there to cut through the intensity.”
Michael said that more than once, Todd has talked transplant surgeons through uncertainty over whether a donor’s kidney was healthy enough to transplant. Todd can talk through the anatomy and tell the medical story of the organ, often helping surgeons decide the kidney is, indeed, healthy. In doing so, Todd has contributed to successful transplants for several recipients.
Todd said he’s fueled by the autonomy of his job, the trust of his leaders, the team he works with, and by knowing that what he does each day saves lives. “Working for Gift of Life is incredible. Every day is rewarding, and I’m honored to be here knowing that we touch the lives of so many.”