“Gift of life” comes with responsibility: RRU doctoral student

A woman with a small smile looks at the camera. A stone building is in the background.

Karly Nygaard-Petersen is part of a team applying for a national research grant to study why some organ transplant recipients don't care for their gifts as well as they should and how to change that, a topic she presented at the Royal Roads University Doctoral Conference 2021.

Doing so could reduce the number of transplant failures and reduce the shortage of available organs, she says.

“I've had a few milestones along my journey that I've been really proud of and this is one of them,” says Nygaard-Petersen, a brand and marketing strategist with British Columbia Auto Association (BCAA) and Evo Car Share, which she helped launch six years ago.

The Faculty of Management and Faculty of Social and Applied Sciences’ College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Royal Roads hosted the first conference in August 2021 and it was funded by a Social Sciences Humanities Research Council Connections Grant.

The online conference focused on socially engaged applied doctoral research in Canada.

Nygaard-Petersen, a second-year student in the Doctor of Business Administration program at RRU, was excited to present her research paper, Looking at Patient Education Discourse: How the Gift of Life influences Non-adherence in Renal Transplant Recipients.

Reframing the message

Does the messaging surrounding organ donation need to be reframed?

Since the inception of the transplant era in the 1950s, the gift of life metaphor has dominated discourse in organ transplant,” she writes in her research paper.

Nygaard-Petersen discovered more than half of organ recipients miss or alter their dose of immunosuppressive medications – a behaviour that carries with it an increased risk of transplant failure.

“Current messaging focuses on the overarching feeling that, 'I'm indebted to this person, but there's no way I can ever repay them,'” she says. “If the message was reframed around this idea of repayment and the responsibility to take care of their kidney, maybe people would think about it differently.”

A new lens

The impetus for her research topic came during a trip with her close friend, Dr. Amanda Vinson, who is also part of the grant application team.

Vinson, a nephrologist at QEII Health Sciences Centre, told her one of the major challenges she faces is transplant patients not taking their medication post-surgery, commonly referred to as non-adherence.

That intrigued Nygaard-Petersen, whose mother previously underwent a cornea transplant.

Nygaard-Petersen says the issues around identity and health are complex and looking at them from the lens of the social sciences may reveal something new about the challenge of non-adherence.

If the application is accepted, the funding would go toward furthering the research around non-adherence, including interviews and working with transplant recipients to understand why one would not take their immunosuppressive medication.

“If we can move the needle on non-adherence, not only could we improve the quality of life or the longevity for people with transplants, but we would also be able to reduce the incidences of things like re-transplantation,” she says.

Nygaard-Petersen previously earned a Master of Business Administration in Executive Management from RRU, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Visual Arts from Simon Fraser University. She was looking to expand the breadth of her knowledge and went back to RRU to earn her doctorate while on maternity leave.