Gift of Life’s first organ donation after circulatory death (DCD) took place 25 years ago thanks to a young hero and his compassionate family. Michael McVey’s legacy went on to transform donation across the United States through his mother’s passionate advocacy and Gift of Life’s leadership.
DCD had been practically abandoned by the 1990s as brain death became the primary path to donation at most hospitals. Michael, 14, saved three lives through DCD after a tragic fall in 1995. His extraordinary legacy has grown to encompass more than 44,000 life-saving transplants nationwide as his case inspired a resurgence in the DCD.
“Michael is an example of how one person can change the world.” said John Edwards, the Gift of Life transplant coordinator for Michael’s case.
DCD offers families an opportunity to fulfill the donation wish of their loved one if that patient has a devastating, non-survivable neurologic injury, and if the family and patient’s physician have jointly decided to withdraw mechanical (ventilator) support. Donation may follow after the patient has been declared dead by irreversible cessation of circulatory function.
With Gift of Life’s support, Michael’s mother, Susan McVey Dillon, spoke to groups of hundreds of physicians and nurses urging them to embrace DCD in the years following Michael’s donation.
“It’s still a story that needs to be told. There are still people who aren’t aware of donation after circulatory death,” Susan McVey Dillon said when reflecting on the 25th anniversary of Michael’s donation.
With Michael’s case as a rallying cry, clinical experts from Gift of Life traveled to 38 other organ procurement organizations to teach them about DCD. Since then, thousands of life-saving kidneys, livers and pancreas have been recovered from DCD donors. Thanks to advances in research and technology, lungs and hearts are now able to be transplanted from DCD donors.
“The heroic legacy of Michael McVey is extraordinary. Michael’s donation, combined with his mother’s passionate advocacy and Gift of Life’s leadership in bringing DCD best practices to OPOs nationwide have helped save thousands of lives,” said Howard M. Nathan, Gift of Life President and CEO.
Gift of Life continues to lead the nation in DCD donation. About 200 lives are saved by DCD donors in Gift of Life’s region each year.