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Christopher Michetti

Trauma surgeon Chris Michetti fills unmet need with formal organ donation training


To satisfy the quest for a comprehensive training on the organ donation process for medical professionals, trauma surgeon Dr. Chris Michetti designed and now teaches a class that’s offered annually by The Alliance. “People don’t realize that [organ] donation is something that a patient might want. So, if you’re thinking patient-centered care, organ donation has to be part of that because some people want to be donors.”

The Alliance Organ Donation Exploratory Seminar will be held online for the first time on May 6-7, 2021. Enrollment is now open for the class. Dr. Galen Henderson, director of Neurocritical Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, co-leads the class with Michetti.

Michetti, who is the associate chief of Trauma/Acute Care Surgery at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia, wrote the outline for the class in 2015 on his way home from a Donor Management Taskforce meeting, sponsored by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), in partnership with The Alliance. Since then, he’s ended up helping to write the book that accompanies the seminar.

Christopher Michetti

He was also one of the authors of the report of the task force, which was published in the Journal of Critical Care in 2016. “I’ve always been interested in student and resident education, and most trauma physicians are also educators,” says Michetti. “We were talking about the deficit in education in donation, and we all acknowledged how if you want to learn about surgery, you can do a surgery rotation. If you want to learn about radiology, there are great radiology books and you can do a rotation. But if you want to learn about donation, who do you go to? There wasn’t one specialty. That generated the idea that we should have some kind of educational program.”

The class has been offered annually since 2017, and some 120 healthcare professionals have completed it. The 8-hour course introduces the clinical, legal and administrative considerations of organ donation, synergistic healthcare partnerships and patient family dynamics.

Michetti grew up in Philadelphia, graduated from Temple University’s medical school in 1994, and now lives in Northern Virginia. He found his calling as a trauma surgeon while in his med school ER rotation. “They had a lot of penetrating trauma such as gunshot wounds and stabbings,” he says. “It was very fast paced and obviously a lot of life-threatening situations. And it just struck a chord with me as these people were passionate about what they were doing. And it rubbed off on me and I saw myself maybe doing that if I was lucky.”

His interest in organ donation began when he was asked to attend one of the Organ Donation Breakthrough Collaborative meetings. “I saw that people were talking about organ donation as a group,” he says. “And as I got more involved, I started to see that what I’m what I do with patients in the ICU actually affects their chance of donating – and patients want to donate.”

Michetti Presentation
Michetti presents with colleagues at the WRTC Synergy for Life Conference in 2013.

“As an ICU physician, I have the ability to either ignore that and not really help them donate, or to do everything I can. I saw that differential; that it came down to people’s choices and desires which I thought was odd. We don’t do that in other areas of medicine. If somebody comes in and they’re having a heart attack, the cardiologist doesn’t say, ‘Well, you know, I like heart attacks, but I’m not really into them.’ But for donation, that’s the way it is. So that struck me and fueled my passion about organ donation.”

Michetti’s unassuming presence belies that passion. “My strategy has been to make it all about the patient,” he says. “I always focus in on the patient who is dying and ask how can we help this person? If they want to donate, I’m here to help with that. The families appreciate that we’re still focusing on their loved one.”

“You have to build a relationship with the families in order for that to work. You need to start very early because you have to have a trust relationship. The families have to feel like they are respected well before the donation conversation ever comes up.”

Michetti said his perspective changed dramatically when his parents got sick; they have since both passed away. “Being on the other side of that and helping my dad through his experience and then seeing how I was treated, how my family was treated, and how he was treated by the people that would normally be me in the white coat was pretty eye opening. I understood… all the little things that families think about and being on the other side I saw how every little thing matters. That gave me a lot of insight into how families think and that they need respect.”

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