Robin Thomas was happily planning her wedding in 2010 with her mother, Susan Saunders, by her side. Her mom was not only assisting her with decisions but was also going to be walking Thomas down the aisle. Then six weeks before the big day, Saunders was shopping at the mall when she experienced what doctors at first thought was a stroke. Further tests showed she had an aggressive brain tumor. A shocking 36 hours after she had been shopping at the mall, Saunders had passed away.
“She had been totally healthy her whole life and then this happened. To say I was in shock is not even the right word,” said Thomas, the executive director of Engineering and Operations for Duke Health. “She was supposed to walk me down the aisle during my beach wedding. Instead, I wore her special gold flip flops during the ceremony.”
Saunders was a registered organ donor. Letters from three of the organ recipients were shared with Thomas and her sister.
“Reading those letters was such a rush of emotions,” Thomas said. “She was an angel in life, so it was fitting that after she passed away, she was still giving from the other side.”
Thomas shares her story to educate people about organ donation. April is National Donate Life Month, a time to raise awareness about organ donation as well as a time to remember those who gave the gift of life.
At Duke Health, Thomas and her Engineering and Operations team have used a variety of mediums to publicize Donate Life Month at Duke. The green and blue Donate Life Month logo has been painted in the open space outside of the Duke Medical Pavilion. The tower in the Hudson Building of the Duke Eye Center is lit green and blue. And banners hang in Duke North and Duke South with more information about organ donation and remembrances to donors like Thomas’s mom.
“My mom gave the gift of life to others and receiving those letters from the recipients really helped me heal,” said Thomas. “I know it is uncomfortable to think about your own mortality, but I do hope people consider being an organ donor.”
For more information about Donate Life Month, visit https://www.donatelife.net/