Remembering my donor on my 3rd lung transplant anniversary

How a columnist pays tribute and raises awareness about organ donation

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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On this day three years ago, at 9:03 a.m. ET, my phone rang. Michelle Schreffler, one of the nurses at Inova’s Advanced Lung Disease Program and Lung Transplant Program, said, “We have a lung offer for you.” Schreffler made that call with two of my other nurses, Patricia Jackson and Melissa Bowen, at her side.

When I was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in January 2017, the future suddenly became uncertain. Four and a half years later, I received the call that not only changed my life, but extended it.

I arrived at the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, Virginia, by noon and went straight to a room to be prepped for surgery. At this point I knew nothing about my donor. I did know the lungs had to be transported by flight.

When the lungs arrived, my care team, including surgeon Daniel Tang, examined them. They noticed some irregularities and sent the organs to undergo ex vivo lung perfusion. This process allowed my team to assess and rehabilitate the lungs before transplant.

Approximately 15 hours after being admitted, at 3 a.m. on July 10, I was taken into surgery, which finished around noon. Tang told my wife, Susan, the surgery was successful, and I was moved to the cardiovascular intensive care unit. It’d be more than 24 hours before my team woke me from the anesthesia.

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Spreading the word about organ donation

That phone call on the morning of July 9, 2021, was the beginning of a new chapter in my journey. This morning, I drove to the National Donor Memorial in Richmond, Virginia. It’s become my annual ritual to visit the memorial on the date and time I received my lung offer.

I still know nothing about my donor. I’ve written their family at least twice a year since I received my transplant, but I understand they may not be ready to respond yet. I sit at the memorial, knowing my donor’s name is among those on the walls. There’s a water feature that flows softly throughout the site. I can spend some time with my donor even if I don’t know their name.

Despite the National Donor Memorial, there’s still a need to raise awareness about organ donation and encourage more people to become donors.

Fifteen small rocks of various shapes and sizes are painted in green and blue. Each contains a written message about organ donation, such as "Donate Life" and "Organ donors save lives."

Organ donation awareness rocks. (Photo by Samuel Kirton)

Last weekend, Susan and I invited a core group of friends and loved ones into our home to join us in recognizing the third anniversary of my bilateral lung transplant. Each of them took home a rock. You might think that’s a strange gift, so let me explain.

There’s a Facebook page, Donate Life Rock Painting, where members share photos of painted rocks that raise awareness about organ donation. People leave the rocks in public places, and those who find one are encouraged to share a photo and hide it somewhere new. Susan and I have left rocks across the U.S. and, most recently, in the Netherlands and Belgium.

We gifted our loved ones 15 freshly painted rocks that they can leave in a public place, to be discovered and raise awareness about organ transplantation.

I’m forever thankful for my organ donor. Even though I haven’t heard back from their family yet, I feel it’s still important to reach out to them and let them know how I’m doing and how much love I have for them and my donor. It’s how I can continue to make every breath count.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Maggi Liebig avatar

Maggi Liebig

They say Plagiarism the greatest form of flatery. I love the idea of the Rocks and I think on my 4th year anniversary on September 23, I will do the same. I will have to christen my new Deck. (hopefully it will be done by then.) I want to gather my friends to view the lake from a new viewpoint. I did hear from my donor family 4 months after my transplant and I thank Chelsea every day for her gift to be a donor. I pay it forward in many ways, one of which, I recently renewed my license registration. I purchaes donor support License plates. Great Ideas you have to make a difference.

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Hi Maggi,

Thanks for reading my column and your comments. I hope you do have an opportunity to create some rocks with friends. They can be shared to increase awareness. Who knows where one of your rocks may travel.

Sam ...

Brenda Colvin avatar

Brenda Colvin

What an amazing and encouraging testimony! So happy for you Sam, and your family. It makes us all aware of becoming donors if possible. Thank you !

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton


Thanks for reading my column and your comment. Even in the post-transplant portion of my journey I have spoken to my care team about continuing to be an organ/tissue donor.



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