Our People in Profile: “Exciting, challenging but very rewarding” tissue bank specialist describes her role at Nova Scotia Health’s Regional Tissue Bank

Allie Penrose is a tissue bank specialist at Nova Scotia Health.
Allie Penrose is a tissue bank specialist at Nova Scotia Health.
As a student at Acadia University studying neuroscience and biology Allie Penrose wasn’t quite sure where her career path was going to lead her. 
This all changed during her third year of school when a member from Nova Scotia Health’s Regional Tissue Bank came to present to her class. 
“The presentation introduced me to a whole new field that I knew very little about which was intriguing,” said Penrose who is now a tissue bank specialist at Nova Scotia Health. “Considering anatomy and physiology were my favourite subjects in school working at the Regional Tissue Bank seemed very suitable.”
The Regional Tissue Bank is located at the Mackenzie Building, QEII Health Sciences Centre and is the largest comprehensive tissue centre in Canada. 
It supports tissue donation and transplantation including ophthalmology, cardiac, orthopedic, neuro and general surgery programs.
Upon graduating, Penrose completed a six month training program and started as a tissue bank assistant with the Regional Tissue Bank. 
“When I started as an assistant I knew it was going to be out of my comfort zone, but I knew I needed to pursue a job that would regularly challenge me,” said Penrose. “After hearing the impact that one tissue donor can have on so many individuals I knew this job would not only be exciting and challenging, but also very rewarding.”
Penrose worked as a tissue bank assistant for a year and a half when she was promoted to a tissue bank specialist. 
She describes a tissue bank specialist’s day-to-day routine can vary, but there are three main tasks within her role including:
  • Screening of potential donors – this involves reviewing potential donor medical history and communicating with donor families and coordinating donation. 
  • Performing tissue recovery in the operating room – recovery of corneas for sight restoration, skin grafts that can be used as bandages to save burn victims and heart valves that can save a life. Bone recovery is used for orthopedic procedures and tendons can restore the mobility of joints.
  • Processing tissues for surgical use – this involves making sure the tissues recovered are safe and able to be used for transplantation.
A single tissue donor can save and improve the lives of up to 80 people. 
For Penrose the most rewarding aspect of her role is knowing the incredible impact donation has, not only for the recipients, but also for the donor families.  
“Discussing the gift of life with families provides them with a small measure of solace during such a difficult time in their lives,” explained Penrose “It has been truly incredible being able to speak with and provide emotional support for so many strong and selfless individuals who have moved forward with donation on behalf of their loved ones.”
The Regional Tissue Bank provides the option of tissue donation as an essential part of end-of-life care to donors and their families by respecting their wishes.