Thousands helped through AU tissue donation program at Richmond County Coroner’s Office

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Thousands of lives have been saved throughout Richmond County with the help of families who make a tough decision within minutes of the death of a loved one.

The coroner is someone who most of us hope we don’t have to meet any time soon. But for those families in Richmond County who do, after the death of a loved one, the conversation is often turned to life and how their deceased loved one can live on helping others.

“Do we know what happened?”

“Lost control of his car…”

Here’s a look at what Carl Eubanks, Director of AU Donor Tissue Services, and his team go through during part of the tissue donation process. They create a sterile environment and a portion of the Coroner’s Office becomes the home of Augusta University’s Donor Tissue Services.

“….bone, skin, heart valve,” Eubanks replied.

Because of the need for tendons and ligaments, Eubanks told us there’s a big need in the sports medicine program along with knees, hips, bone and soft tissue. They transplant up to 200 pieces of tissue a month and 15 years later, his partnership with Mark Bowen continues, making sure families have the option to choose donation for their deceased loved one. Bowen explained after he shares news about that death, he presents another idea.

“Eventually, we’ll get into the donation if we feel it’s time,” he said.

Eubanks added, “Once the patient is pronounced dead, has passed away, then we have 24 hours to recover that tissue.”

Testing takes place, which could take six weeks or six months depending on the nature of the autopsy. Eubanks said families must answer several questions, including whether their deceased loved one used drugs in order to qualify.

But storage means patients can gain access anytime and Eubanks noted just one person can help 60 to 80 people. And so far, Richmond County has helped 12,000 to 15,000.

“Tissues can stay in our department for up to 10 years for heart valves, five years for frozen tissue and three to five years for freeze dry tissue,” said Eubanks.

“I think that the families see what they can do to help their loved one help somebody to carry on life,” Bowen said.

He added, he has encouraged other coroners across Georgia to join in on tissue donation too. And Eubanks adds South Carolina CSRA counties are on board too. It’s a 24/7 job and tissues stay local first. But families hold the power.

“It can bring tears to your eyes to watch these families and how happy they are on both sides,” Bowen said.

Eubanks also said, “They look at me and they say this is the worst day of my life, but we’re going to help somebody else.”

Since the program started in the late 80s, Eubanks said hundreds of thousands of lives have been enhanced in Georgia through tissue donation.


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