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Summer 2007

UCLA Nurse Considered a 'Hero' for Boosting Transplant Donations

Fourteen years as nursing unit director for UCLA Medical Center’s transplant and surgical intensive care units gave Lea Ann Cook an up-close view of the life-saving impact of organ donation. “I have seen people who were at the brink of death transformed into fully functioning, working family members after a transplant,” Cook says.

Over the course of a nursing career that has spanned nearly three decades, Cook has all too often seen the other side of the story—the devastating effect of the national organ shortage on people awaiting that life-saving transplant. The number of people who need a new organ is rising faster than the number of donors. Nationally, more than 95,000 people are on the transplant waiting list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. On the average, 18 people die each day because an organ wasn’t available to save them.

A decade ago, Cook became active in an effort to increase the rate of organ donation at UCLA Medical Center, where only about 40 percent of eligible patients were donating, consistent with the national average. Cook began working with OneLegacy, the federally designated transplant donor network in Southern California, to improve that percentage, and helped to form Bruins for Life, a team of hospital staff and OneLegacy members committed to the cause. In 2004, UCLA joined the national Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative, which identified hospital “best practices” related to donation. Through an institution-wide commitment and the adoption of these best practices, the donation rate at UCLA Medical Center reached 77 percent last year, nearly double what it had been when the efforts began.

Cook, whose leadership earned her a nomination for the National Health Foundation’s Hospital Hero Award, says she gets great satisfaction in knowing that the hospital’s increased rate of donation for 2006 means 45 more people benefited from organ transplantation than otherwise would have. “It’s important to me that our organization is doing its best to optimize the number of organ donors,” Cook says. “We are a leader in so many areas, and this has to be one of them.”

The above video can also be viewed in windows media at streaming.uclahealth.org/Cook

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