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St. Luke’s Quakertown’s first organ donor to be recognized at ceremony


St. Luke’s Quakertown Campus will recognize National Donate Life Month with a flag-raising ceremony on April 25 that honors the hospital’s first organ donor, Carmen Carhart of Pennsburg.

The ceremony will be held 9 a.m. at the flagpole on the Park Avenue side of the hospital. Dennis Pflieger, president of St. Luke’s Quakertown Campus, will be among the speakers who will celebrate Carmen, 53, who died Dec. 19, 2018. Her kidneys were donated to two recipients and her liver and lungs went to research. Carmen’s husband, Jim, and two children, Kelly and Sean, will attend the ceremony and help raise the Donate Life flag.

Another speaker, Jill Shultz, the ICU manager and trauma program coordinator at St. Luke’s Quakertown, organized the flag-raising ceremony, which is part of a national initiative by Donate Life America to raise awareness and encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of donation.

“St. Luke’s Quakertown is grateful we were able to honor Carmen’s wishes to donate her organs and to have it done here for the first time at our community hospital,” said Shultz, St. Luke’s liaison for Gift of Life and who previously organized a flag-raising ceremony at St. Luke’s Bethlehem.

“There are over 9,000 people in Pennsylvania alone waiting to receive an organ to continue their life,” she said. Nationally, nearly 115,000 men, women and children are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.

Although Carmen had been ill for a while, her death was unexpected. After suffering an asthma attack and cardiac arrest at home, she was rushed by ambulance to St. Luke’s Quakertown where she was put on life support.

Jim Carhart told the medical staff that Carmen wanted to donate her organs and had discussed her wishes with the family, including days earlier. He wanted the organ donation surgery to be performed at St. Luke’s Quakertown, and was later surprised to learn it was the first time one had been conducted at the 62-bed hospital.

“The St. Luke’s staff was extremely compassionate. They gave me every medical option that was available. They were as professional as professional gets,” Carhart said.

Once the family made the decision to withdraw care and donate Carmen’s organs, St. Luke’s and the Gift of Life pulled their teams together. After recipients have been identified and the patient dies, time is of the essence. The recipients’ hospitals prepare and wait for the organs to arrive.

Dr. Thomas Zanders, a critical care and pulmonary medicine specialist with St. Luke’s Pulmonary & Critical Care Associates, came in from Bethlehem to be part of the team. Registered nurse Shane Riling, one of the ICU nurses who took care of Carmen and her family that night, said it’s a difficult time for the families going through the process.

“Dr. Zanders and the whole critical care team and Gift of Life team were great. They were providing honest answers to the family’s questions so the family could make a decision they were most comfortable with,” Riling said.

“I didn’t know how the organ donation process worked and they explained everything to me,” Carhart said.

Ever since he met Carmen on the dance floor of a club more than 25 years ago, Carhart said he always knew he would marry her. A former pharmaceutical representative, Carmen was kind, caring and hardworking, he said. “She was everything I ever wanted,” he said.

“I get some peace knowing part of her is alive in others,” he said.

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