Lead Physician Assistant, Transplant Surgery, Penn Transplant Institute

Georgeine Smith Transplant Physician Assistant smiling at camera on helipad

“When most people are sleeping, I’m working. My job is to go out with our abdominal transplant fellows, recover the organs of deceased donors then bring them back to Penn for transplant. Most often livers and kidneys, and usually in the middle of the night. Then, I act as the fellows’ first assistant during the operation.

When the call comes, we’re usually driven to an outlying hospital to get the organ, but sometimes we take a helicopter or small plane. I’ve been all over Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware but also as far as Arizona, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Las Vegas. Sometimes I’ve been on three donor runs in a row.

When we arrive at the donor’s hospital, we’re escorted to the operating room. Before the first incision is made, Gift of Life leads us all in a moment of silence to recognize the patient, it’s called the Moment of Honor.

I don’t have any contact with the family but I remember the donors. A woman who died of asthma. A teenager who died of an overdose. Kids are so hard; like the little girl whose hair was braided, someone took good care of her and loved her. I don’t get emotional while we’re on our runs - it’s my job to take good care of the donor, I just want to do a good job.

We communicate back to Penn about the organ’s condition so they’ll know whether it will work for our patient. We have 8 hours to get a donor liver into a recipient, 24 hours for a kidney. By the time we get back to Penn, the transplant team has already started the operation so they’re ready - you want the organ to have a warm supply of blood as quickly as possible.

I found out about this job through a newspaper ad, and I’ve been doing it for 12 years now. I’ve probably helped procure over 1,000 livers in that time. The work is super interesting, and I think I’m good at it. I love what I do.”

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