Tag Archives: transplant advice

The Rewards And Challenges Of Transplant Social Work

You already know what it feels like to prepare for a transplant as a patient. But how do transplant professionals view the process? We asked Laurie McDonald, a clinical social worker and case manager for the UNC Center for Transplant Care, to answer our questions.

heart in hands transplant


What are some of the biggest challenges of transplant social work?

At times, I really, really want a particular organ recipient or donor to succeed, but based on his or her circumstances, that person is just not a suitable candidate. After years and years of this line of work, I have to console myself with the truth: transplant is not for everyone. For some, a transplant will make the situation worse instead of better. It’s difficult to keep that message at the forefront when the person in front of me truly believes a transplant will save them.


What are some of the rewards you experience?

Just this week, two people were transplanted in a row. Now, they are delighted to be breathing without supplemental oxygen and walking more easily than they have in a long time. To see joy and relief on the faces of transplant recipients and their family members is wonderful. I love seeing patients years post-transplant living full lives that honor their donors. Transplant remains a daily part of their lives, but it is no longer the central focus.


Have you witnessed areas of progress in transplant assessment?

Within the past few years, we have become more invested in transplant assessment tools that will give us concrete, unbiased information. When a doctor recommends lab work, those tests will result in definitive numbers that the doctor can use to diagnose and treat you. When you’re dealing with social and emotional factors, it’s far more difficult to accurately quantify and represent a patient’s profile.

We have started using a validated measure that is linked to patient outcomes developed by Jose Maldonado at Stanford. I use this risk assessment tool to come up with a score that reflects a candidate’s psychosocial situation. It’s imperfect, but it’s absolutely progress. It makes it far easier for team members to compare information and communicate across specialties. Personal and even subconscious biases are always a factor, so it’s extremely important for us to continue to take steps in this direction.


What advice would you give to those who are considering transplant social work?

Do it! It’s stimulating, rewarding, wonderful work. I absolutely love it. 15 years in and I’m not bored yet!

Quality improvement is really important in transplant in general and at UNC in particular. We are always learning and working to do things better. There are advances in medication, medical techniques, social evaluations and other areas happening constantly. It’s really an interesting place to be.


Share your experiences as a transplant candidate, recipient or social worker on Facebook.

6 Ways To Help A Loved One Prepare For A Transplant

Do you have a friend or family member who is preparing for a transplant? Here are six key pieces of advice for caregivers and supporters from Laurie McDonald, a clinic social worker and case manager for the UNC Center for Transplant Care.


Ask the person what he or she needs. Don’t assume you already know.


Be involved with the person’s care team. I love when I see a whole group of people come to a patient’s evaluation. They all get to learn about the process together, and identify where they can fit in and help.


Your loved one will need emotional, physical and financial support. Every person must find the way they can contribute most based on interests, skills and comfort levels. One person shouldn’t (and can’t) do it all.


Prepare for some surprises. Support networks are not always what you’d expect. Long-time friends may falter while people who are barely acquaintances step forward and come through.


A real challenge after transplant is dealing with medications and their side effects. Your loved one’s mood might be all over the place. Don’t take irritability and other side effects personally. Develop a protective skin.


Find your own outlets and support networks. Everyone needs a break.


What’s your best piece of advice for helping a loved one prepare for a transplant? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and on Twitter.