Ottawa Police and paramedics are being trained to approach a fatality with a new view on potentially saving other lives.   They are now assessing the potential for a person whohasrecently died to become a tissue donor.  When a person dies in a hospital, their families are given a chance to help others through organ and tissue donation.  But, when a person dies at home or outside hospital walls that opportunity dies with the, until now.

Police and paramedics are often first on the scene at a fatal collision or cardiac arrest.

Every second counts to save a life.  But sometimes that just isn't possible.  Now an opportunity exists to perhaps save the lives of others.

“Our job is to save lives,” says Sue Noel, a superintendent with Ottawa Paramedic Services, “and when we don't, it's hard on us.  So knowing that we can make that phone call and turn tragic a situation into something good, it's huge.”

That "something good" is a new team approach to deaths outside of hospital.  Ottawa Police and paramedics are working with the coroner's office to let them know about a potential tissue donor when they arrive at a scene.  Time is critical because that tissue, eyes, skin, heart valves and bones, deteriorates quickly.

“There are two criteria that must been met,” explains Sergeant Steven Desjourdy with the Ottawa Police.  The team approach was Desjourdy’s idea, after encountering Investigating Coroner. Dr. Sarah Lawrence at the scene of a tragic collision.  Since then, he has trained more than 500 Ottawa police officers to identify a potential tissue donor based on those criteria.  “They must be under 76 years of age,” he says, “and have died within 12 hours.”

At that point, the coroner will be contacted who will then connect with the Trillium Gift of Life.

“With all of us working together,” says Investigating Coroner Dr. Sarah Lawrence, “we're a fantastic team at making this happen for families.”

“I think everybody has the opportunity to help save lives,” explains Marco Raggi with the Ontario Trillium Gift of Life Network, “and not only recipients but donor families, turning something tragic into something positive.”

The tissue from one donor can help enhance the lives of 75 people, people like Jon Braun, who received corneas from a donor years ago.

“It's given me my life back,” says Braun, “because when I was 16, entering my last year of high school, I couldn't see.  Who knows what would have happened had I not had that tissue transplant. I probably would have been blind.”

Ottawa police and paramedics implemented this team approach several months ago and say it's working so well, they're convinced the rest of the province will adopt this idea, too.

This concept only works for tissue.  Once a person has been declared dead and the heart has stopped beating, explains Dr. Lawrence, organ donation generally doesn't work.  But there is a 12-hour window for tissue, making that team approach all the more critical.