Organ Recovery Specialist, Stephanie Hafner
Welcome to Baker College’s Spotlight feature, a series of brief interviews with notable BC students, faculty and alumni who are making news and reaching new heights in their educational and professional pursuits.
Today’s edition of Spotlight features Stephanie Hafner, a graduate of Baker College’s Surgical Technology program. Hafner currently works in the unique and life-saving role of an Organ Recovery Specialist with Gift of Life Michigan. Here we learn more about Stephanie and her educational and professional path and passions.
Baker College (BC): Thank you for your willingness to share your story and experiences with our readers, Stephanie. We know you are a graduate of Baker College’s Surgical Technology program…why did you chose Baker for your higher ed pursuits?
Stephanie Hafner (SH): I chose Baker College because it was affordable, fairly close by, it offered the Surgical Technology program and most of my credits transferred from other schools.
BC: We’re so glad you found us and that we were a fit for your needs and aspirations. Were you always interested in health care as a profession? What or who inspired you to pursue a career in the health care field?
SH: I was not. I actually intended on completing a vocal performance degree at Grand Rapids Community college after graduating from Grand Rapids Christian Highschool. After completing a couple of semesters, I realized that vocal performance was more of an avocation for me than a vocation. I then transferred to Davenport University and explored the Medical Technologist program. I encountered the Anatomy classes and was very intimidated by them, but I absolutely loved my medical terminology class. I made a decision at that time, though, that my heart was not into furthering my education and eventually left Davenport to focus on working. I spent a few years with Starbucks, until I eventually started a new job at Spectrum Health. The job at Spectrum was the beginning of my interest in the health care industry. I worked as a Unit Secretary on a very special floor at Blodgett Hospital, and met some incredible staff. My co-workers became my close friends, and they urged me to pursue a job in nursing. Knowing full-well that I did not have it in me to complete four+ years of nursing school, I declined their suggestion. I worked very closely with certain surgeons and found an interest growing in me about surgery. One of the doctors encouraged me to observe an abdominal surgery, to help spark my interest even more. While observing the surgery, I talked with the surgical technologist. In our short conversation, I was impressed, and relieved to hear the degree was a bit shorter to obtain than a nursing degree. Walking into the OR as an observer sent an electric shock through me, and I decided right then and there that this was where I needed to be. The next day, I went to the Muskegon campus and signed up to complete my pre-requisites for the Surgical Technology Program at Baker College. I can still remember the excitement of receiving my acceptance letter into the program. The rest is history.
BC: Your patients and colleagues must be grateful you found and followed your passion, which brought you to your current work. You have a very unique job…tell us about it, including some of your day-to-day responsibilities.
SH: I can remember the very first day of the Surgical Tech program, there was a guest speaker from Gift of Life. She put on a fantastic presentation about the exciting career of Organ Transplant. I remember saying to one of my classmates, “If I get through this program, and if I have an opportunity to apply and feel comfortable with my experience as a tech, that is what I’m going to do someday.” I was a Surgical Technologist at a local hospital for almost four years and gained experience in my career. It was my dream to work with Gift of Life, and earlier this year, that dream came true! I am now an Organ Recovery Specialist with Gift of Life Michigan. Our team is made up of 16 -18 people who specialize in Organ Donation cases all throughout Michigan. I am on call for 24 hours, four days per week. My typical day, when I’m on call, is waking up to a pager going off telling me of a case that I am assigned to. Gift of Life honors lives through donation when a patient is either brain dead or dies after cardiac death. As an Organ Recovery Specialist, it is my responsibility to ensure sterility and run a successful OR case. I’m still an orientee at the moment, but the things they have me doing right now consist of perfusion, labeling and packaging organs per UNOS policy and cannulating kidneys and placing them on pumps. Once the patient comes into the OR and is transferred to the OR table, the process begins and it is important that I have the correct preservation solution or “flush” for the procedure. The cannula with the preservation fluid is inserted into the aorta and perfuses the body, keeping the organs cold. Once the preservation fluid starts, the body cavity is filled with slush to cool the body and keep the targeted organs viable for recovery. Then, the surgeon and team remove the organs they have come to obtain. After removal, I take pictures of said organs and load them into a nationwide database. Doctors across the U.S. and Canada access these photos and discern which organs are right for their patients awaiting transplants. As of right now, I am working on strictly abdominal organs, such as: liver, pancreas, intestines and kidneys. I will soon be trained in thoracic organ recovery, like lung and heart transplants. It’s a very exciting job, and an honor to be involved in a patient’s last wish to leave his/her legacy by giving another patient a gift that is truly a second chance at life.
BC: Wow, such an interesting and important occupation! What do you like best about your work? Conversely, what do you find most challenging?
SH: What I love about my work is the purpose. I love feeling like I’ve made a difference in the world by honoring patients in this wonderful and remarkable recycling process. I love surgery…I love being a surgical technologist and knowing that I have changed a life is the most rewarding feeling. I couldn’t have done this job without my experience of being a surgical technologist. It’s important to understand the flow of the OR, the anatomy of a patient and the instrumentation used to be successful in these highly delicate, time-sensitive and life-changing procedures. The importance of sterility, medical terminology, pharmacology and understanding of medical ethics was something that I learned in the program and it is something I use daily in my career. This job is exciting. It’s an anatomy lesson every day! Who else can say they get to dissect renal arteries in kidneys and handle lungs, hearts and other organs?? The job is extremely hands on and I still get to feel at home, “scrubbed in.” I get to fly on helicopters, planes, ride in cars and travel all over Michigan and the United States when we go on fly-outs. My motto is to never stop learning, and never just, “do your job mindlessly.” This job is challenging, encourages me to think on my feet and be prepared for all situations, but to stay humble as well.
The hardest part of my job is that death and donation is never predictable. I’m on call because we don’t plan death. There are days where I do a case and drive 300+ miles, and there are days when I’m at home champing at the bit for a phone call to go out on a case. It is very unpredictable and not for the faint of heart. Death is hard to see day-in-and-day-out, but it’s a part of life. Death should be treated with as much respect as birth, and as life as we live it. It’s important for patients to still feel cared for, even at the end of their life. We see some very sad situations but it is important to remember to see the light in the darkness…how something so tragic can still be so wonderful and help so many others. That’s what makes the job…knowing that the death wasn’t in vain, and that through this, comes new or better life.
BC: You put that so beautifully, Stephanie, thank you for sharing those important insights. Looking back, what were your career goals/plans when you first enrolled at Baker College, and how do they compare to where you are today?
SH: When I first enrolled in Baker college, I just hoped I could make it into the program. I had no idea I could truly attain my dream job. With the skills I gained from the surgical technology program, I went farther than I ever thought I could. I was a late bloomer…I celebrated my 30th birthday in the program and I’m 34 now…it’s never too late to try something new, or to just start. I owe so much of my success to the passion I felt from instructors that passed down their excitement of this career to me.
BC: You were lucky to have those influences in your career, and now you can serve in that role for others. That said, what best piece of advice would you share with future college students…especially those considering a career in health care?
SH: The only advice I can give to those about to go into the health care field is to always take your opportunities to learn more. Do things that scare you; don’t stay comfortable. Health care is ever changing and evolving, so you should be too. If you have a passion for people, use that and be a change in this world. And always remember, Aegar Primo…The Patient First.
For more information on Baker College’s Surgical Technology program, visit the Surgical Technology Program page.