A Transplant Donor Mom’s Story

By Bobbie Buffkin

A Transplant Donor Mom’s Story

One Mother’s Day years ago, my daughter, Susan gave me the song “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” telling me that I had always shown her how to be strong through life’s ups and downs. This is a story I carry in my heart.

Life is full of lessons, and one thing I have learned is that from tragedy comes strength. However, strength is elusive; when heartbreak takes hold of me I have to find that strength in order to beat the weakness I feel. When the situation involves the death of a loved one, finding the strength to go on takes a lot of courage. I was forced to look for help in dealing with our loss in order to find that strength – either that or I would have succumbed to despair, hopelessness and an unhappy life. My story is about losing my daughter to a senseless crime, and how she gave the ultimate gift of life by donating her liver and both kidneys. It is also about how her donation saved my life by giving me the strength to go on.

Losing a child is something no parent likes to think about. The reality is that it is a parent’s worst nightmare, and we all pray it will never happen to us. I lost Susan to a senseless crime on August 31, 2004. She was robbed and kidnapped, and while trying to escape from her assailant, she sustained severe head wounds, dying from brain death the next afternoon. Her assailant has never been caught. This is what I live with every day, and it is where my story of strength and courage begins. The days that followed her death were filled with shock and unbelievable hopelessness for me. I went through all the motions one does after such a loss, and I was slowly sinking into a deep, dark hole. I became obsessed with helping to find her killer, feeling there had to be justice for Susan. The police detectives on the case became very familiar with me!

A month or so after Susan’s death, I received a letter from Translife, Central Florida’s Organ & Tissue Donation Service. All three of her recipients were doing well; anonymity for the recipients and donor is a must, but the letter did tell me they were all three male; they lived in Florida, and I learned about their interests and hobbies. I read and reread this letter, and a door opened for me. I immediately contacted Translife’s family coordinator. She told me there were many opportunities at Translife for donor families to volunteer and become involved with activities designed to help the grieving process. I realized the road of grief I was traveling was not a healthy one; being focused on catching Susan’s assailant was not building the strength I needed to go on with my life. I knew I needed to find a positive avenue within this tragedy. If I could help others who had lost their loved ones, I knew that would help me in return. What I wanted to do was talk…I wanted to tell Susan’s story and emphasize the importance of her amazing legacy; her three recipients were now able to live normal, healthy lives. If not for her gifts, they would have died. I also wanted to share the strength and hope her gifts gave to me. By being an organ donor, she had given me the strength I needed to walk a healthy path of grief. If I could convey this feeling to other donor families, I felt it would help them with their grieving process. Through Translife I was invited to speak at many important events; I was interviewed by the media several times and wrote for a few publications.

I also spoke to donor and recipient groups. Susan’s son and I went to Kentucky, in 2006, to attend the U.S. Transplant Games which are sponsored by The National Kidney Foundation every two years. At these games recipients from every state compete in many athletic competitions, and donor families are recognized as well. It was an awesome experience! It was after meeting so many grateful and wonderful recipients at the games that I decided I wanted to meet Susan’s kidney recipient who had written to me through the guidelines (still anonymous) of Translife. I wrote to him with my wish, and he agreed that we should meet! Translife assisted us in arranging the meeting, and we met in August, 2006. I cannot explain the feeling I had when meeting Angelo and his family. There are no words worthy of describing it. We became good friends and still remain in touch. Twelve years ago, he would have died without Susan’s gift of her kidney. He has seen three grandsons born and lives a normal life. If one can comprehend a positive aspect to this tragedy, this is it.

There are so many stories I could tell about the magnitude of Susan’s gift of life. Her story has helped so many people and has reached across the globe. I continue to volunteer through Lifepoint Organ/Tissue Donation Service here in South Carolina. I think of Susan every day, and there will always be a hole in my heart missing my daughter, but I am so proud of the legacy she left and the strength she gave to me.

Currently, nearly 124,000 men, women and children are awaiting organ transplants in the United States. An average of 21 people die each day because the organs they need are not donated in time. If you are not already a registered organ donor, please consider signing up. You can do this at your local DMV, on your Facebook Page, or go to donatelife.net for details. Remember, one person can save up to eight lives!

Most important to my story, I have learned to love life again, and, by doing so, Susan’s love is still present to everyone around me. She is truly “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”

About this writer

  • Bobbie BuffkinBobbie Buffkin is retired from the medical field and spent many years as a clinical supervisor for a large Cardiology group in Florida. Her public speaking on the subject of Organ Donation in both Florida and South Carolina has been extremely rewarding, along with media interviews and writing articles of strength and hope. Bobbie and her husband reside in North Myrtle Beach. 

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One Response to “A Transplant Donor Mom’s Story”

  1. Bobbie, such grace and love resonates from your essay and unspeakable tragedy. There is power in helping others, and Susan’s legacy continues through you and her benefactors. I am sorry for your loss and pray for your strength. Powerful essay!

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