When Robin picked up the phone one Sunday morning in late 2007, she thought her son was going to tell her about his football game the night before. She hadn’t been able to make it to that one, and she was excited to hear how he did.
But her son, Joe, was not giving news on the other end of the line. A couple of years earlier, he began experiencing seizures—the doctors could never really figure out why. He was on medication, but that didn’t always stop them from coming. He could feel it, he told his mother. The 22-year-old star quarterback who had a smile that stretched for days, the guy with four brothers and sisters who lived by Bob Marley’s “One World, One Love” creed, the son who made his mother so proud every day, could tell he was about to have another seizure.
Robin stayed on the phone with Joe and sent his brother, Josh, over to his apartment. Luckily, Joe only lived a few minutes away. Robin talked to her son, trying to keep him coherent and calm until family could get there to help him.
Suddenly, the phone dropped. And then there was a horrifying silence.
Robin, her husband, and Josh arrived quickly, and had to crawl through a window to get to Joe because his door was locked. Robin’s husband, Curtis, performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. Joe was hanging on.
In the ambulance, Joe “coded.” Paramedics stabilized him. At the hospital, he coded again. Still, they were able to stabilize him. Joe still had a heartbeat, but his mother knew he was gone.
In the next two days, Joe hung on while more than 75 friends and family came by to see him. Even the nurse who provided care to him suddenly found himself bonded with Joe. It’s just the kind of person Joe was—the kind everyone adores instantly.
At 4:12 p.m., on Tuesday January 1, 2008, Joe died.
In her grief and pain, Robin began making plans. When Joe was 15, he signed up to be an organ donor, and he had reiterated that intention just months earlier, so Robin went to work to make sure that happened.
Today, Joe’s never-ending spirit lives on. Because of his organ donation, seven men are enjoying life in ways they had thought were no longer possible.
John, who received a double lung transplant, keeps Joe’s picture and wears one of Joe’s Quicksilver t-shirts, just to remember the young man who gave him life, who gave him the commitment to wake up each day grateful for the simple things. And there’s Marco and Scot, who received cornea transplants, Ken, who received a heart transplant, James, who received a kidney transplant, and Marty, who received a liver transplant. And somewhere out there, there’s another kidney recipient who wished to remain anonymous, but who undoubtedly looks up and thanks Joe from time to time.
Robin endured the loss of a child—a pain parents can’t bear to imagine. But knowing that Joe was able to help others live helps soothe a wound that won’t easily heal.
“I don’t understand why our young children die before us. It is senseless. Nothing takes the pain away, but knowing that your child is a hero to someone is a wonderful thing,” Robin said.
Robin has since devoted much of her time to increasing public awareness about organ donation by volunteering with the American Transplant Foundation and Donor Alliance.
Robin found out about the American Transplant Foundation after she went to register Joe’s car in her name. She looked at all of the specialty license plates at the Colorado DMV, but was surprised when she found out that Colorado didn’t have a plate for organ and tissue donation. She decided that, in remembrance of Joe, she would try to create a Donate Life license plate.
But Robin soon discovered that the American Transplant Foundation was already working on it. She contacted the Foundation and asked to help with the project, which had been on the back burner for a while. Robin immediately began collecting hundreds more signatures for the petition and joined two other volunteers in entering the thousands of signatures into a database.
When the 3,000 required signatures had been entered and turned in to the State, Robin testified before committees in both the Colorado House and Senate, shared Joe’s story, and urged them to approve creation of a specialty license plate encouraging awareness of organ and tissue donation.
Thanks to Robin and the Foundation’s efforts, Colorado’s new Donate Life license plates were signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter on June 1, 2009.
The plates will be available on Jan 1, 2010—the two-year anniversary of Joe’s death.