Monday, 15 July 2024

Family donates organs of young driver; need for organ donations is critical, says official

SANTA ROSA – The tragic story of a car crash that ultimately claimed five lives last weekend had an unexpected footnote added to it this week.

Late Friday, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Golden State Donor Services issued a joint statement on behalf of the family of 19-year-old Steven Culbertson of Lakeport, who died Nov. 29.

“Nineteen-year-old Steven Culbertson’s organ donation provided the gift of life to others waiting for a life-saving transplant,” the statement read.

Culbertson died the morning after he allegedly ran a red light in his Mini Cooper on Lakeville Highway in Sonoma County, triggering a four-car collision.

During that fatal crash, Culbertson is alleged to have broadsided a Nissan Quest in which John and Susan Maloney and their young children, Aiden and Grace, were riding. The family died at the scene, as Lake County News has reported.

The story has gained nationwide attention, as the deaths of so many people was compounded by a burglary of the Maloney family's home and speculation about speed and possible other contributing factors to the crash – including a report that Culbertson was spotted drinking at a bar before the crash.

However, news of the organ donations brings to the fore another story – the need for organ donors around California and across the nation.

There are 105,000 people who are waiting nationwide to receive organ transplants, according to Tracy Bryan, spokesperson for Golden State Donor Services. Of those, 21,000 are in California, the state with the most overall need.

The Donate Life California Organ and Tissue Donor Registry's Web site, , reportedly on Friday that there are more than 5.8 million people statewide who are signed up to become donors.

However, less than 1 percent of of all hospital deaths qualify for organ donation, said Bryan. Usually, the situations that qualify involve a traumatic head injury leading to brain death.

“We really need people to think about it and sign up,” Bryan said, noting they can sign up directly at .

She said that only about 8,000 organ donations take place nationwide each year. Of those, between 50 and 70 take place within Golden State Donors Services' service area.

Information about the specifics of Culbertson's donation are private, but Bryan explained the donation process in a late Friday interview.

Bryan said that when a potential donor is identified, the hospital is mandated by federal law to call a donor procurement organization. Golden State Donor Services is the donor procurement organization that serves Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, as well as the Sacramento area and 10 surrounding counties.

Once the donor is identified, the process must move rapidly. Bryan said organs only can be preserved a short time – four to six hours for a heart or up to 72 hours for kidneys, which can be flown cross-country to be given to a person with a perfect tissue match.

Golden State Donor Services sends out a family care coordinator to work with the family, and they being working through the approval process, including accessing a large donor database to see if the person has given consent.

If they haven't signed up, “then we seek consent from the next of kin,” said Bryan.

Next come blood and tissue samples and a search for matching recipients through the United Network for Organ Sharing, Bryan said.

The United Network for Organ Sharing reported that it is under contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Health Services & Resources Administration, and maintains a centralized computer network – available around the clock – linking all organ procurement organizations and transplant centers.

Bryan said recipients are prioritized by need – the sickest patients are taken first – tissue and blood matches with the donor as well as geographic proximity, which is crucial because of the short time organs can be kept. For the most part, organs generally stay within a general region.

Up to eight organs that can be recovered, said Bryan – the two kidneys, both lungs, the heart, liver, the pancreas and intestines. Donate Life California reported that they also take tissue donations for eyes, heart valves, bones and skin grafts.

The donors' families receive general information afterward about who received the organs, Bryan said.

She said they believe that people who become donors “become heroes in every sense of the word.”

Bryan urged people to sign up to give “the gift of life.”

“In many cases,” said Bryan, “families are comforted by something good coming out of something tragic.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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