Dealing with Death & Dying in Medical Education and Practice
© 2001 Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS
AMSA Convention March 30, 2001
Suggestions for Dealing with the Family 
from a Family Member

Deb Allenman, Donor Mom

One thing that I have talked about with medical professionals when I publicly speak for Life Source is to put yourself in the families shoes. What I mean by that is to think about what you would want to know and do if you were the family member who's loved one has been declared brain dead.

To elaborate on this, is I didn't ask to hold Cole and I was never given the opportunity to do so.  To this day I regret not having asked to hold Cole one last time.  My arms ache to do so.

It's the little things such as this that will make the Organ and Tissue Donation experience positive. I suggest to medical professionals to think about what they would want to do in this situation.

For instance, the morning that the EEG and brain death testing was to take place, the night nurse, who happened to be a male, asked me if I would like to give Cole his bed bath.  I never gave this gesture any 
thought until a couple of years later.  I might be wrong, but I think that he knew what the outcome would be later that morning and this small gesture was one of the last things that I could do for Cole.  It did my heart well when I thought of this.

Like I said it's the small things such as holding, hugging, kissing, and a bed bath that can really help the grieving family.

The other thing that I appreciated was that this nurse was so honest and open with me about Cole's condition.  He explained all the monitors and their functions, what all the read-outs meant, what the normals are and what they usually see as far as changes in the read-outs with brain injuries.  He also explained all the physiological changes that Cole's body was going through and explained to me that what they were seeing was signs of the body dying.

Suggestions for Medical Team 

  • Explain to the family what is happening with the monitors, the readouts and what is normal and abnormal.
  • Check with nursing staff to see if family members can like to help in some of the routine careóbathing, feeding.
  • Encourage the family members to touch, hold, kiss their loved one, if they wish.
  • Explain to the family the physiological changes that the body goes through while dying. 
  • Ask if family members would like to hold their loved one after they have died.

About the Reference: 
Deb Alleman is the mother of an organ donor, Cole Anthony Alleman. His story can be read at Cole's Legacy: The Gift Of Life and Sight In memory of her son she created "The Gift of Life" Site Ring to promote education of the public about the need for Organ and Tissue Donation. The webring links Donor Families and Transplant Recipient Families throughout the world, by sharing the stories of their decisions to share their "Gift of Life. She is a speaker for Life Source,, an Organ Procurement Organization.

Information on Organ Donation
Federal Conditions of Participation from the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) and many state laws now require that all families be presented with the option of organ and tissue donation when death is imminent. For more information see the AMAís Section on Organ Donation 

Compilation of resources for this presentation and Website © 2001 Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS. 
Journey of Hearts,