Kurt Shutterly is the Vice President for Operations at the organ procurement organization Center for Organ Recovery and Education. One of 63 federally mandated OPO’s, CORE covers central and western Pennsylvania, southern New York, and West Virginia and and has one of the largest volume organ procurement rates in the country. We recently had a chance to meet with him to discuss organ tranplantation.
Where are you from?
Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania
Where did you go to college and what was your academic major?
I went to Penn State University right out of high school majoring in Criminology. I completed three and a half years of college and saw that there wasn’t much of an opportunity for obtaining a job that paid well and left the school.
I got married and worked in the family business until I decided to attend nursing school to become an RN.
What has been your career path from college to your current position?
I worked in the family trucking business for eight years until we had our first child in 1990. I didn’t like being away from home and decided to enter nursing school.
Upon graduation, I worked at Washington Hospital as a critical care nurse and left the hospital in 2000 to work for The Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) as an organ procurement coordinator.
I left CORE for a short time to work as a Clinical Liaison for LifeCare Hospitals of Pittsburgh and returned to CORE in 2005 as the Director of Professional Services and was promoted to VP, Clinical Operations in 2007.
What is the biggest misconception that public has about organ donation and transplantation?
There are some misconceptions that we work hard to eradicate.
The most common misconception is that if a person is designated as a donor on his or her driverâ€™s license and is in an accident, the medical community will not work as hard to save his or her life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Each physician and medical professional working on patients take all life saving measures to save the patient. That is first and foremost in the medical teamâ€™s minds.
In fact, the medical team working on patients has no knowledge about the patientâ€™s choice to be an organ donor. The attending medical team is totally separate from the transplant team.
What are your current views on the New Jersey case where an oral surgeon was recovering and distributing tissue without consent from families and without testing?
This case made news because it was extremely unusual and illegal. The justice system and the medical â€œchecks and balancesâ€ system worked in the way these systems are designed to function.
It is good to know that our justice system is healthy and working to bring any illegal activity to an end.
Why hasn’t the organ donation rate improved appreciably in the last 15 years?
Transplantation and donation are not new concepts. The miracle of the gift of life is a mature concept and people tend to think less of something that is not â€œnewâ€.
We work hard each day to fulfill end of life wishes of those designated as donors, despite the critical need for donors.
What are your specific job duties?
My title is Vice President of Clinical Operations with The Center for Organ Recovery & Education. I’m responsible for the day to day operations of the clinical staff related to organ, tissue, and eye donation.
What organs are the most difficult to recover?
Heart and lungs due to the changes that occur when a patient progresses to brain death. There are approximately 100,000 people awaiting a life saving organ transplant.
What happens when a patient’s drivers license says yes to donation but the family says no?
In Pennsylvania and West Virginia, driverâ€™s license designation is legal first person consent. By law, this designation means the personâ€™s end of life wishes are to be fulfilled.
Should a family have questions or concerns, we work with each family member to help educate them. In our experience, most families are comforted by the fact that their loved one lives on in another.
Organ procurement organizations also have many donor family resources, bereavement resources and special recognitions to help the families through the difficult grieving period.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The unpredictability of donation. Our organization is not a 9-5 job; we are responsible to the hospitals and donor families all hours of the day and night.
I have a strong support system at home that allows me to fulfill my administrative responsibilities at CORE.
How do you respond to the resentment people have about foreigners coming into the United States and paying cash for their organ transplant?
Personally, I have not experienced this resentment. The law in the United States precludes payment of organ donation/transplants.
How do you rate the Bush administration in terms of furthering organ donation?
The federal government has been very supportive of donation and transplantation. Organ procurement organizations work closely with the federal government to ensure quality and credentials are upheld.
The change in administrations should only continue the support of donation and transplantation.
What do you do to relax?
Any time that I can spend with my wife and teenage children helps me unwind. I volunteer in the local youth sports programs and I’m a PIAA football referee during the fall.
Disclosure: The interviewer is a former transplant surgeon and as by required by state law has referred patients to CORE for evaluation for organ donation.