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I see you sometimes. You’re the kid the same age as my little sister who’s crossing the street as I sit in traffic at a red light. You’re the guy whose laugh everyone noticed in the busy restaurant last night. You’re the barista who gives me a large instead of a small. I want to know you. I want to know your family. I want to know what your dreams are. Where do you see yourself in ten years? Do you want a family? Do you like dogs or cats more? Are you a cheese person? Because I can eat a wedge of sharp cheddar at an alarming rate. Can you belt out disco music at the top of your lungs in the shower like me? Do you have brothers or sisters? Are you happy? Are you in love? Then the car behind me honks and shouts because the green light is close to fading to yellow and I realize I’ve been daydreaming about you again. I don’t know anything about you. Not your favorite color. Not the band you listen to on repeat. Not your birthday. Nothing, not even your name. I think about you more than I care to admit. I have all of these questions I would give anything to have answered. But then I remember the question I’ve been asking since you saved my life.

How did you die?

As I write this, there’s a prescription bottle to the right of me. This one pill that I now take will be a part of me until the day I die, just as what you gave to me will be with me until that same day. This little white capsule keeps the organ you gave to me without fear of rejection. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Perhaps it’s to distract myself from the fact that I have no idea what to say to you. How do I thank you? How do I honor your death? My God, I wish that I could tell you that I will find the cure for cancer, write something that helps bring world peace, or do something spectacular with this second chance. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that all I want is to be healthy. And thanks to you, I’ve become pretty good at that.

69 days was all it took. Day one, I walked in with what I thought was a nasty cold paired with a possible urinary tract infection. Less than 10 weeks later at the ripe age of 25, I was waiting to die in a hospital bed in the ICU. But then, my dream team came in and told me about a young man whose liver would fit me perfectly. Yours. Eight hours of surgery later, you had saved my life. I went in for surgery on Wednesday night, and I came through the other side on Friday morning. After tubes and bandages were pulled and ripped from my body, they walked in, my mom and my kid sister. That feeling of them being allowed to hug and hold my face is something I will never forget. The tears and the happy sobs of gratitude. To look into their bloodshot eyes. The smell of coffee and relief on their breath. The warm sun was coming through the windows on that cloudy January morning. I have never felt such love for life. When I think about that moment, I often think of your family and what may have been the worst moment of their lives.

 

We were left with the question of “how?” How did you pass? Was it sudden? Was it an accident? Did a stranger not call an Uber after too many drinks? Was it the rain we had been having? Were you out with friends? Celebrating a belated new year? I guess it doesn’t matter. I wish I knew your name though. So much so, that I’ve given you one despite never knowing a thing about you. I call you Sam. No particular reason to be honest. I was at a concert and the artist’s last song she sang was by the same name. I fell in love with the song and what it meant, and you came to mind. It was meant to be. Sam. I say your name a lot these days. Often times, when I’m doing something that I don’t want to do or a task which is proving to be difficult. Getting out of bed on a workday. Making it the last five minutes on the treadmill. Or even something as simple as taking the garbage bins out the night before. I think of you and say your name because you will never have the chance to do such things again. These “burdens” are a blessing to me now. I remember being in the hospital post-transplant and my discharge date kept being pushed back further. And further. And further. I could not wait to get out of that sterile hospital room with its fluorescent lighting and not just be alive, but honestly living. Eat real food. Hug my family. Order a cup of coffee. Pay a utility bill. Take my dog for a walk. Deal with these everyday burdens. And then I would think of the good parts. Like being stupid with my two best friends.

Of all of the people who have felt your loss, your mother comes to mind most often. Likely because of what mine means to me. Before I was diagnosed, the thought of death did not terrify me. I’ve lost people and the tears would always come, but somehow, a thought of knowing that they were going to be okay would find me. Their spirit is only shedding its body. When I was told that I was going to die without an organ such as yours, a fear I had never known grasped me hard and would not let go. It was not a fear of dying, but a fear of the life that I had yet to live. I had so many things that I wanted to do, so many things that I wanted to see, and to hear, and to experience. I was not ready to die. My mother was holding my hand when the doctor gave me a death sentence. And all I could think of was not being there for her. To dance with her at my wedding. To introduce her to her grandchildren for the first time. To tell her that everything was going to be okay. To never come home again. She was the first one I thought of when I came out of surgery and was conscious. Before they had removed the breathing tube or had taken the tape off of my eyes, they put a pen into my hand to write questions. All I could write was, “Where’s Mom?” Where is she? Why isn’t she here? And before I knew it, she was. I think of your mother and I cannot fathom the loss she has in the center of her being. I want to thank her, but at the same time I want to apologize. I want to tell her that I’m sorry. I may never find the cure or the reason as to why you were taken from her and why I was given a second shot. I’d hug her and I’d probably cry because this whole dying thing has made me an emotional fucking wreck. I promise that I’ll thank her and the rest of your family. I promise to tell her that her baby’s life will not have been lost on me. I’d ask her about you and I’d soak it all in. All of it.

At the very least, I promise to ask her your name.

But until then, I will call you Sam. And I will live for you, Sam. When fear grabs hold of me and keeps me from doing something, I’m going to do it regardless. I’m going to do it for you. As my fingers type these words, I glance at the calendar next to me and see the date. In two days, it will be one year since you saved my life. To say this past year has been an adventure would be putting it lightly. I fought hard. I cried more than I would care to tell you, but most of these tears were happy tears. I am still lost and pondering why this happened. I still think about you, about your family, about life before that dreadful diagnosis day in November. Up until recently, I wasn’t big on making plans for tomorrow. Or the next day. The thought of making plans and thinking of the future had become something only others got to do. I couldn’t think of that when I must be grateful for merely this very moment. How could I want for something years down the line when it was a miracle to be here right now? And then one night after hearing of a friend gone too soon, in walked my old friend Fear. Fear of getting sick again. And as I sat there crying with hands shaking, someone very close to my heart told me that I could no longer be afraid to plan for tomorrow. Is there a chance that I will get sick again? You betcha. But I’ve decided to pull out my planner despite that truth. So this is my promise to you. I promise to get stronger than before. I promise to fall in love again. I promise to get married, and have babies, and travel this world, and dance to Donna Summer with a block of Tillamook in hand, and hug my people a tad too long. I promise to meet your family one day. I promise never to take my loved ones for granted or forget the beautiful burdens for what they are, a gift. I may not save the world, but you saved mine, and I will always remember that.

Promise.

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Replies

  • Rob, thank you for taking the time to pen all of your heart. My husband kept asking me to cantact my donor’s family but all I could think of, is how I would feel, seeing someone living because my son died which would not be easy for me. Sounds selfish but grief is not realistic. I could not do that to a mom still grieving. Lately, I have hoped for a letter from my donor family, asking who I am but none has come. I am still uncomfortable barging into their life and grief, though it has been four years. Mother’s never stop grieving, this I know. One day, when they are ready, maybe I will be too. 

  • I remember requesting a pen and paper the day I was released from ICU and put in a room. I felt the same things you express here too. I found myself with tears running down my face thinking of what someone’s family just went through while mine was celebrating and it made me feel so selfish. I was writing a letter to the family that just suffered that loss because my transplant team assured me they would send it to them and let them decide if they wanted contact. In my case I was so lucky and touched that they reached out. We helped each other deal with their loss and my new life as best we could and I’m grateful for every communication we’ve had. I’m a long way out since my transplant but I never forget where I came from and to whom I owe the life I live today. Everything else in life is just small stuff now that I wouldn’t even be able to enjoy or hate if it had not been for someone else’s generosity.

  • thanks rob  for the beautiful letter about your precious donor.  it made me feel so happy. it has been 4 months now since i had a kidney and liver transplant together.  im still in shock and cant believe what a miracle i had.  thank God.  i have been wanting to contact my donors family for a while now but was unsure of just what to say to them besides thank you.  you have given my confidence to start on that letter asap.  thank you very musch i wish you a blessed and great life.

  • Beautiful, I think you have just summed up what everyone has been trying to say about the true feelings we all hold inside about our gift of a new life afforded to us by a complete stranger ,.and for that I thank you .

  • Beautiful in every way. Thank you for sharing your thoughts & feelings. As others have written, they mirror my own. 

  • Bless you, you are anamazing soul

    wishing you the best

  • Hey Rob, For a young person you have an old heart. I am 65 and have had a new liver for 11mths now & have been battling with how to say thank you to my donors family, these people went through their own personal torture as they at first refused consent to donate & save my life but in the end they gave content & I now have a life that is full of love & joy. Your words have given me the inspiration to write to them & tell them how well their loved on is doing.

  • Rob, this was written from your spirit.  I truly believe that.  I've read it several times from start to finish and there's a person I know who really needs to read this.  She's the mother of a 49 year old daughter who just got on the list for a kidney transplant.  I know your's was a liver, but the words you shared are universal not only in memorium but also as a testimony of the conscious, voluntary, selfless act of love   As you state,it is a celebration of life from death.  You see, this mother is looking at it from the standpoint that someone has to die for her daughter before she gets a kidney.  (That's why the long wait ... cadaver donor).  I think the daughter has a better handle on it than the mother and I don't want to see her mother, my friend, treat this as unfortunate for the donor.  I'd like to share this with her with your permission.  Personally, this shouldn't be exclusive to those on the board.  Lots of people out there that don't know "here" and that's okay.  I just think my friend needs a little "pick-me-up" with this.  

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Dave

    • Hi Dave

      This is a public site-anyone can read it. I have shared Rob's beautiful words on Facebook and in our newsletter.

      Thank you!

  • ❤️

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