A request from a friend to meet with a neighbor who needed a double lung transplant resulted in finding a new hiking buddy for Kevin O’Connor, president and CEO of LifeCenter Northwest and board member of the Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance.
Two years ago, Walt Cassidy was suffering from interstitial pulmonary fibrosis, which was worsening fast when O’Connor first met with Cassidy and supported his eventual decision to get on the transplant waiting list. Shortly thereafter, Cassidy received his transplant and less than one year afterward, he and O’Connor went hiking in the Cascade Mountains at about 6,000 feet elevation.
“Without question, I can assure you this is a man who would not be alive today without a transplant,” says O’Connor. “Walt Cassidy is a great example of the good things that happen when organizations have a clear focus on helping patients; he got what he needed and he’s now able to hike at high altitudes in the mountains with his friends to celebrate his 68th birthday this month.”
That focus on ‘keeping the main thing the main thing’ yields strong results for organ procurement organizations, says O’Connor, who recently announced his plan to retire from his position of president and CEO of LifeCenter Northwest, a post he has held since January 2010.
“We stay squarely focused on helping as many people as we can through donation and transplantation,” he says. “And to us, that means focusing on helping the families of potential and actual donors and the donors themselves and focusing on helping the patients out there in need of replacement organs and tissues.”
Keeping this focus on the people who can be helped as a primary guiding principle has yielded strong results. During his 12 years as CEO, LifeCenter Northwest has nearly tripled the number of organ donors per year. “Having a clear goal to transplant more patients is our North Star,” says O’Connor. “That’s why we’re here. That’s what we focus on. That’s how we make decisions. That informs everything we’ve done, everything we say and everything we do. The whole team is organized around that principle and that philosophy – the goal of helping more and more people all the time.”
O’Connor, who served as co-director with Dennis Wagner of the HRSA / U.S. Organ Donation & Transplantation Breakthrough Collaborative from 2004-2007, credits Wagner and others with his adoption of a single clear goal that drives everything. “Almost everything that I brought into my opportunity as a CEO at LifeCenter Northwest were things that I had learned from working with Dennis Wagner, John Scanlon, Doug Krug and others. Co-directing the Collaborative was the opportunity of a lifetime for me to learn by actually doing work together with a team of incredibly talented mentors.”
“Keeping the main thing the main thing is the guiding principle for our organization,” he continues. “When we have a conversation with our governing board, it’s always in the context of why whatever it is we’re proposing or requesting approval for will help us help more people. It’s a mindset and framework for how we make decisions and how we do our work.”
O’Connor served as vice-chair of The Alliance’s board of directors for seven years and this September he will participate in The Alliance’s National Donor Management Summit. He will step down from the board in January. “The Alliance stays focused on what matters and on constructive and future-focused activities,” he says. “There’s an energy that underpins the work The Alliance team does. And the sharing of practical examples where things are being done better across the organ donation and transplantation community is inspirational.”