Watching a relative die while waiting for a heart transplant ignited Sophia Smith’s interest in organ donation and transplantation and that experience has made her a passionate advocate for organ donation. Smith, a former Pediatric Critical Care doctor now Pediatric Emergency Medicine physician at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, is now an active member of The Alliance National Donation Leadership Council. The 15-member council has developed a Community Hospitals Resource Guide to enhance collaborations between community hospitals and their local organ procurement organization to increase donation performance and is at work on a comprehensive Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD) educational guide for medical professionals.
Smith was in college when her sister-in-law’s cousin, five-year-old Nicholas, fell ill and died awaiting a heart transplant. “I would visit Nicholas in the hospital and some of the doctors took note of my attention at Nicholas’ bedside and took great interest in introducing me to critical care medicine by taking me around the ICU,” says Smith. “I definitely attribute my interest in ICU care as well as my donation practice decisions based upon what happened to Nicholas that year.”
Smith grew up in Tampa and was the middle child of five siblings. Her initial interest in pediatrics began in elementary school which mainstreamed medically challenged and special needs children as part of an inclusion integration education program. She would transport students from their clinical wing to their regular classroom settings throughout their school day. She attended the University of Florida for undergraduate and medical school and did her residency and pediatric critical care fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine.
Smith became involved with LifeGift, a Texas organ procurement organization, during her medical fellowship. “They provided clarity and understanding about donation practices for me,” says Smith. “Donation was a way of life in Houston.” When she moved to Washington, DC, she became involved with the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC). “WRTC fortified my foundation and passion for organ donation. They helped me get involved in the National Learning Congress of the Breakthrough Collaborative and provided information to help me develop my hospital’s first Organ Donation Council.” Smith went on to chair the Council and to develop policies and training at her hospital that increased organ donation conversion rates from 12 percent to 75 percent.
Outside of her passions for organ donation and children’s health, her family, cooking, sports, and making music feature prominently in Smith’s life. She says she is also very, very involved in her church and that it plays a big role in her family’s life.
“My parents have been a big influence in my life – they’ve always been our cheerleaders and our directors,” she says. Although her siblings are spread out across the country, “We are a very, very close-knit family. We talk pretty much every day between the parents and the kids. Between the five of us there are 27 cousins, so we always have several Zoom links or Team links going.” One of those 27 cousins is Smith’s 17-year-old daughter.
“I’m a very big opera fan and I love musicals and plays,” she says. “I’ve played the piano, the bassoon, the flute, and the baritone. I was in a competitive marching band and was the show writer for it. When I went to college, I told my parents I was going to major in marching band.” Smith recently set up a music studio in her basement and is instilling the love of musical performance in her godchildren. “Our house is not very quiet; there’s music being made constantly.”