Reaching to the CORE of kindness

Courtesy of CORE | Susan Stuart is a proud Duquesne alumna and is the CEO and President of CORE.

by Emma Polen | features editor

Feb. 17, 2022

At the heart of kindness in the Duquesne community is an organization that has helped save and heal thousands of lives through organ, tissue and cornea donation. 

CORE, the Center for Organ Recovery & Education, is a non-profit organ procurement organization that serves people in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Chemung County, New York, who are in need of an organ transplant or are a potential donor. 

In 2019, CORE won the 2019 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, and in 2021, they broke the regional organ donation record for the third time by offering “nearly 700 life-saving organ transplants and offered healing and restored sight to more than 99,000 people across its service area,” according to a recent press release.

Susan Stuart, president and CEO of CORE, explained the organization’s role in the organ donor process. 

In all acute care hospitals within CORE’s service area, “When there is an individual whose death is imminent, they [the hospital] must call our 24-hour call center and refer the death to us,” Stuart said. 

“We do an initial screening to determine the potential for organ, tissue and cornea donation. If there is the potential, our members of CORE will go to that hospital, they will talk to the family and provide them that opportunity for donation. They’ll work with the healthcare team to facilitate that entire process.”

Then, CORE works to connect a suitable recipient through a local transplant center, and they work with both the donor family and the recipients throughout the recovery process. 

Stuart has worked with CORE for 18 years, but she first got involved with the organization while working in Allegheny General Hospital as a trauma nurse in the Intensive Care Unit. 

“I was just moved by this process where you take death and dying and you take a day that is the worst day of a person’s family’s life. And you’re able to give them some hope…by offering that opportunity to donate their loved ones’ organs,” she said. 

“Then you see the other side and you get to see the recipient receive a second chance of life.”

Stuart completed part of her schooling at Duquesne University, getting her Bachelor of Science for Nursing.  

“The approach at Duquesne is a very holistic approach, and that’s what I really liked about [it],” Stuart said. 

“You just need to take care of the whole mind, body and spirit. Then you’re able to take care of others.”

Stuart started at CORE as a procurement coordinator while studying part-time at Duquesne and was promoted to positions of leadership. 

Stuart appreciated the chance to receive her education while working for such a meaningful organization. 

“I was able to take the theory and put it into practice, and I think that was just so wonderful,” she said.  

For Stuart, CORE was a way of fulfilling her calling to help others through the medical field. 

“I just couldn’t think of anything more that I would want to do in my nursing career than to be able to help people at the worst time of their life,” Stuart said. 

“There’s no greater gift than the gift of life and every single day I get to see life as either life [that] is healed or life enhanced through tissue donation.”

Along with the acknowledgement of CORE as an outstanding organization of excellence, Stuart was honored earlier in February with the Malcom Baldrige National Quality Awards’ Foundation Award for Leadership Excellence.

By breaking these records and having more Pennsylvanians than ever before becoming organ donors, Stuart is hopeful for the future. 

“What it means for the community is many more people received the second chance and didn’t die waiting for their organ,” Stuart said. 

“On the donor side, it means the generosity of the families that we approached in 2021 was just absolutely amazing, that so many families at the worst day of their life wanted to reach out in generosity and give that gift.”

In addition, CORE’s recognition shows successful teamwork with all involved in the donation process. 

“Donation is a collaboration with many different entities who need the healthcare team in the donor hospital, from the doctors and the nurses to the respiratory therapist, they all have to have a real strong commitment and dedication. And we’re very fortunate that we have that in our hospitals in our service area,” Stuart said. 

“For so many, donation is really a culture of giving and kindness.”

Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, is also a major day for organ donations. The day is “National Donor Day,” and it functions to raise awareness of the power of an organ donation. 

According to CORE’s National Donor Day press release, this year’s National Donor Day also “coincides with the announcement that the commonwealth now has more than 5 million Pennsylvanians registered as organ and tissue donors.” 

This is the highest number of donors yet, but “We have more to do,” Stuart said.

“I encourage everybody to make that pledge for life and register to be a donor,” Stuart said. “That will help us to save a life.”