Thrive by IU Health

April 18, 2024

Finding compatibility: She tests blood from organ donors and recipients

Finding compatibility: She tests blood from organ donors and recipients

There is lengthy testing to match the right organ with the right recipient. This healthcare worker is part of that process.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

She is seldom seen by patients, but Jessica Brown plays an important role in IU Health’s transplant program. From a lab located inside IU Health Methodist Hospital’s Wile Hall, Brown works alongside a team of people trained in histocompatibility.

During “Medical Laboratory Professionals Week” (April 14-20), Brown explains her specialized role.

Q: You’re having dinner with friends, how do you explain your job?
“I usually describe what I do as donor and recipient compatibility. I do testing for solid organ transplants. We take blood from donors and recipients and we test donor cells to recipient serum to find out if they’ll be compatible for transplant. We also follow our patients pre- and post-transplant.”

Transplant recipient-donor compatibility is based on blood type and tissue typing. Age and size are also taken into consideration. If a healthy donor is incompatible with the intended recipient, the donor may opt to be part of paired donation. Also known as “donor swap” recipient /donor pairs are matched according to compatibility.

At the end of March 2024, IU Health performed 134 pediatric and adult transplants including heart, kidney, pancreas, liver, lung and intestine. IU Health’s Transplant program is not only nationally known by the number of patients served, but also by the team members in the program. Patients come from across the country and outside the United States. In addition to qualified nurses, the team includes surgeons, physicians, social workers, transplant coordinators, financial navigators, procurement specialists, and other staff members dedicated to excellent clinical care.

Brown grew up in Kokomo and attended Western High School. She started college at IU Bloomington and transferred to IUPUI. She graduated through the School of Medicine Health Professions Program with a bachelor in Cytotechnology, a medical laboratory specialty studying cell samples from various body sites to detect cellular changes indicative to cancer.

Q: How did you get into your role with IU Health?
“After working for a few years I didn’t think it was the path I wanted to pursue so I went to work in a gene therapy lab at IU School of Medicine. I needed a job while I was still exploring what I wanted to do. Cytotechnology jobs here weren’t that plentiful. I accidentally fell into this job. Because of my bachelor in Cytotechnology, I was able to apply. I’d worked in a clinical lab, I knew the basics. I did specific job training for a year and then was tested and certified.”

Q: Describe your daily work routine.
“Well, it’s a little like a high school chemistry lab with the big black countertops. There are several bays and lots of different testing - most is hands-on, but some is working with machines. We never know when we will be needed for a transplant so we may get notified two hours before surgery or six hours before surgery. I could be putting my kids to bed and get a call.”

Q: Is this a good job for an introvert?
“There are 14 of us working together who are extroverted. It’s a strong work family, and when you’re on call you are never truly by yourself because someone is always a phone call away.”

Q: What do you like best about your job?
“The most rewarding aspect for me is following particular patients through the transplant process - both pediatric and adults.”

Brown is married and the mother of three preschool children. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her children and pursuing a hobby of artistically painting denim jackets.

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