Two Families Connect Through Organ Donation and Transplantation

Families of lung transplant organ donor meet with lung recipient at St. Joseph's. (July 2014) -- Tears of joy, sadness and gratitude were shared between two families—one who’d lost a beloved son while the other regained a life.

Bobby LaSalle recently traveled all the way to Phoenix from North Pole, Alaska, to meet Tom Robins, 64, the recipient of lungs that originally belonged to her son, Raymond Boyd. Robins’ surgery was performed at St. Joseph’s Hospital’s a day after Boyd passed away in 2012 at the age of 31.

 “Raymond was always giving to others and wanting to help people any chance he could,” said LaSalle. “He was just full of empathy.”

The two families met after Robins sent a letter to LaSalle expressing his condolences for her loss as well as gratitude that he had been granted a second chance of life because of it. Still grieving the loss of her son, LaSalle said it took her several months to even respond.

“The letter from Tom was overpowering,” she said. “But then, the idea that Raymond helped someone else live became very comforting.

Robins, a retired supervisor with the Phoenix Water Services Department, suffered from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a condition in which severely damaged lungs make it increasingly more difficult to breathe. A lung transplant become his only life-saving option.

“I got a phone call from my son telling me that his wife was pregnant with our first grandchild on the same day I found out that I was going to die,” said Robins, who raised three children with his wife of more than 40 years, Laura, and is now the proud grandfather of four.

“If he hadn’t had the transplant, he would probably have lived less than a year,” said Ragat Walia, MD, medical director at the Norton Thoracic Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital, which offers the only lung transplantation program in the state. “Organ donation is the ultimate form of altruism. The gift of life is the best gift of all.”

As a dedicated family man, Robins is eternally grateful for every breathe he takes, determined to experience life to the fullest. “I almost died and now have a second chance at life,” he says. “I don’t want to waste a moment. 

As the two families shared stories, they discovered many parallels between their lives. For example, Raymond had been a competitive athlete in the Special Olympics, while Robins had been a Special Olympics volunteer-counselor for nearly 25 years.

“So many things tie us together,” said Ray Boyd, Raymond’s father. “The fact that my son is living on through someone else, that he is making somebody else’s life better … that has helped us greatly in the grieving process.”

 “He’s still here and I can prove it,” said Robins. “You can hear him breathing for me right now.”