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Nurse Creates Honor Walk to Support Families of Organ Donors

  By Marianne Benjamin
  Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Kara Turner, RN, has seen a lot of miracles as well as heartbreak during her 12 years as a bedside nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Golisano Children’s Hospital. 

She has seen the pain that parents experience when a child dies and the comfort that they experience from donating the child’s organs. And she wanted to find a way that families could honor that decision.

That’s why she suggested that an honor walk be part of the organ donation process. During an honor walk, hospital staff line the hallway from a patient care unit to the operating room when the deceased is transported, to honor the decision made by families to donate organs. Hospitals across the United States are holding honor walks to show respect to patients at the end of life who are donating organs to others.

Matt Allen, Kara Turner, Tanisha Lewis
Matt Allen, Kara Turner, and Tanisha Lewis

Turner had seen a video on Facebook of an honor walk at another hospital. “When a family I was caring for experienced a devastating loss and decided to donate their child’s organs I felt drawn to make this happen for them,” she said. The first honor walk was held on a Saturday morning and the hallway to the operating room was completely filled with hospital staff. “It was an amazing experience for the family and for all of us,” said Turner. “I knew then that it was something I wanted to be available for the family of every organ donation patient.”

The honor walk is a simple concept that shows donor families that they are not alone and allows hospital staff the opportunity to visibly support donor families,” said Tanisha Lewis, MS, RN, CNL, unit educator. “Participation is completely voluntary for both families and staff members, but they gladly participate because they see it as a sign of unity and support.”

After the first honor walk Turner dove in to find out more information about how it could be incorporated into hospital policy. She was supported in her quest by Lewis and Matt Allen, MS, RN, CNS, PNP-BC, a senior pediatric clinical nurse specialist. Kara’s initial thought was to have this offered by the PICU, but once Strong Memorial staff heard about it they wanted to offer it as well,” said Lewis. “Kara did the research, created guidelines, and made presentations at multiple committees. Allen helped her form her work into a policy that was unanimously voted to be part of Strong and Golisano Children’s Hospital. What Kara accomplished in a short time was remarkable.”

Turner has also received approval for an overhead tone, a bell that will ring in the hospital when an honor walk is happening. The pandemic has postponed the introduction of the tone, but there is an educational course in My Path that has been sent to all the nurse educators for each unit throughout Strong to educate staff. Within the course, a sample of the overhead bell tone can be heard, so staff will associate the tone with the new practice of the honor walk.

Most importantly families have been very appreciative of this opportunity to honor their loved ones. “This is very emotional for me, said Turner. “I’m a bedside nurse and now I find myself speaking at conferences. Tanisha has been a wonderful support for me. I feel so passionate about this and so grateful we were able to do this for families.”

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