Donor physician, Dr. Paul Yaffe said “advocacy and education” are key to increase donor rates across Nova Scotia

Dr. Paul Yaffe, donor physician in western Nova Scotia.
Dr. Paul Yaffe, donor physician in western Nova Scotia.

As a general, colorectal surgeon and intensive care unit (ICU) physician at the Valley Regional Hospital (VRH) in Kentville, Dr. Paul Yaffe works with patients and families everyday whose lives have been impacted by serious and sometimes sudden illness. 

That, combined with his almost 13 years of experience in transplant, made him an ideal candidate for the new role of donor physician in western zone with Nova Scotia Health. 

“As a surgical resident, my training included participating in the retrieval part of the transplant process,” shared Dr. Yaffe. “I would travel to other Atlantic provinces and bring back lifesaving organs for people in Nova Scotia who were waiting and in need. Later, during my ICU fellowship I managed both donor and recipients in the ICU regularly, which I found quite interesting.”

Dr. Yaffe is one of four donor physicians across Nova Scotia Health whose role was created in support of the recently revised Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act (HOTDA)

The new act, which will come into effect January 18, 2021, will make it possible for more Nova Scotians to donate their organs and tissues at the time of their death.

As a donor physician, Dr. Yaffe’s role includes providing medical leadership and championing the promotion and knowledge of donation and transplant. 

He said a large part of that is acting as an ambassador on behalf of the Legacy of Life Program and sharing their messaging whenever or wherever he can.

“I work closely with physicians in the emergency and ICU department to support and consult on patient care and team related issues while a patient is in the process of dying from brain death,” said Dr. Yaffe. “The other part is ensuring that the specific requirements for donation have been identified and met, and that families fully understand the process.”

Together, these efforts amount to ensuring that potential donor opportunities do not go unmissed and that the ultimate decision of the patient is respected, fulfilled and has a chance to make a positive impact.

Dr. Yaffe sympathizes with the family and loved ones who endure such tragic and difficult circumstance but stresses the importance of supporting social advocacy and education during that time.

“Many patients are unable to donate,” said Dr. Yaffe. “Every case has a unique set of circumstances and only a small portion of patients actually qualify to be a donor. It’s crucial that every person involved in the process, whether that be a physician, the patient’s family or care team, understands the meaning and impact of supporting that individuals decision to donate.”

When advocacy and education are paired together from a health care system perspective, Nova Scotians are more likely to make an informed decision and possibly give the ultimate gift of life said Dr. Yaffe. 

He believes it is one of the only opportunities in medicine where a critically ill patient can truly make a positive, physical impact that benefits society.

“It’s an incredibly selfless thing, to be at the end of your journey knowing your decision could give the gift of life to not just one person, but many.”

He agrees the steps forward with respect to legislation are positive ones but recognizes there is still progress to be made to help increase donor rates in Nova Scotia. 

“I hope the change in legislation creates more engaging conversations between families, friends and caregivers about organ and tissue donation,” said Dr. Yaffe. “But ultimately our goal as donor physicians is to minimize missed opportunities and improve access to donation in other areas of the province for those who are waiting. I think we are on the right path to achieving that and as a result, helping recipients lead healthier, fuller lives sooner.”