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Q & A with Sonny Dhanani

How does your research impact organ donation?
Following withdrawal from life support, there’s a 2 hour window for circulation to stop during which organs are still considered viable for Donation after Cardiac Death (DCD). This is an extremely narrow window of opportunity, so we’re conducting targeted research to better understand this critical period after the decision to withdraw life support and to proceed with donation.

What do you study exactly?
After withdrawal of life support, we’re observing the heart, its electrical activity, the circulation and blood pressure and we want to make correlations with other things happening in the body, like what the brain is doing at the same time. It’s very sensitive but extremely insightful work.

Your research is helping dispel a myth…
There is reluctance to donate organs because of auto-resuscitation, the spontaneous resumption of circulation. We are trying to prove that this phenomenon (which is often depicted in horror movies) doesn’t actually happen in real life.

What research are you currently working on?
I’m actively participating in the Canadian National Transplant Research Program (CNTRP) which was announced by the federal government in April 2013. The CNTRP is the first program in the world to unite and integrate the solid organ transplant, the bone marrow transplant and the donation and critical care research communities all together. I think that the work we’re doing in this program will inform DCD practice and that we’ll be leaders in DCD research, definitely in Canada but probably globally as well!

What motivates your research?
I’m the chief medical officer in Ontario for organ donation with the Trillium Gift of Life Network. I apply what I learn locally at CHEO with my provincial and national exposure to create a research portfolio that saves lives. One donor can save up to 8 lives; with tissue donation they can impact up to 75 lives. So, just one potential donor can make a big difference. If we can help better understand DCD, then my team will help to increase the number of organ donations one day too – that’s motivation enough!


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