A common cause: NSHA’s tissue bank works with provincial medical examiner service to help tissue transplants happen sooner

Mark Gentile, processing team lead for the regional issue bank, holds up cornea tissue for the camera.
Mark Gentile, processing team lead for the regional issue bank, holds up cornea tissue for the camera (Communications Nova Scotia).

Nova Scotians in need of tissue transplants now have much quicker access to care, thanks to a unique collaboration between Nova Scotia Health Authority’s (NSHA) Regional Tissue Bank (RTB) and the Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service (NSMES). 

That’s because a dedicated tissue recovery suite is located inside the medical examiner’s office – the first partnership of its kind in Canada. 

In February 2018, NSHA’s RTB established the first tissue recovery suite in Canada to work in a medical examiner’s jurisdiction. Located at the NSMES facility in Dartmouth, RTB staff are able to access the suite 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The NSMES deals with out-of-hospital and some in-hospital deaths,” RTB health services manager Harold Taylor said.

“Our staff work to provide surgeons with tissue so they can perform life enhancing and lifesaving surgeries in areas like cardiac, neurology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, plastics and general surgery. We need the support and approval of the NSMES to proceed with tissue recovery if it falls within the work they do.”

Before the tissue recovery suite, there were wait times for the operating room as well as transport delays. On occasion, this created unnecessary interruptions for the donor, recipient and family members. Now, donors are transferred directly to the NSMES facility and returned to their loved ones as soon as possible.

“It has created a much more sustainable program for both departments,” Taylor said, “which means we can support and meet patient and family needs sooner while strengthening system efficiencies in areas such as tissue access, recovery time, tissue quality, transportation costs and shared education.”

Despite tissue donation not falling within the core mandate of the NSMES, Dr. Matthew Bowes, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Examiner, said seeking new ways to collaborate with other groups and agencies is a perfect example of working together to fulfill a common goal – helping the public as best they can.

“Both departments care deeply about the grieving families who come under our care,” Dr. Bowes said. “Working and learning from one another will only yield a stronger relationship and more efficient system for those we hope to help.”

While increasing access to much-needed tissue is a benefit of the recovery suite, Taylor is reminded every day of the donors, patients and families who are involved and impacted by the gift of tissue donation.

“As health care providers we have a responsibility to the donors, their families and recipients,” Taylor said. “It goes beyond system improvements. We must always remember how precious the gift of donation is and honour that wish going forward through the work we do and people we help each day.”