The Gift of Life: A True Christmas Miracle

The true story of a Christmas miracle. My family was forever changed one Christmas Eve by the kindness of a stranger we will never know.

At Christmas time, we hear a lot about miracles and angels. It makes for great movies and storybooks, but I can also tell you that sometimes it actually happens. It happened to me and my family. Our angels didn't have wings or halos, and I will never know their names. I will never have the opportunity to thank them for giving us the greatest gift we could ever receive. But maybe, by telling this story, I can inspire someone to turn their darkest moment into a precious gift and truly, a miracle.

Me and my dad.
My father suffered from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, an incurable lung disease with no known cause. In November 2010, he was placed on the lung transplant waiting list. Though no one wanted to say it, we all feared that 2010 would be his last Christmas. One of our favorite family traditions was a big Christmas Eve lunch. My husband and I were driving to Christmas Eve lunch when my cell phone rang.

"We got the call," my mom said. There was no explanation needed. The call. A lung. It seemed unbelievable. My parents had to be at the hospital right away, and we changed course and sped in that direction.

The transplant doctors had cautioned us that we may experience one or more "false alarms" - where an organ seems to be a match but as they do more extensive testing it is not. Or the donor organ is not viable. We arrived at the hospital, my dad was checked in, and they started the tests. We all kept expecting them to tell us it was a false alarm. It seemed so impossible - he was going to get a lung, on Christmas Eve! But as the hours ticked by they kept doing more tests and no one told us to go home. This was happening.

They took him to pre-op at about 11:00pm. There were two other families and patients in the same area. Though they carefully guard any information about the donor, they did tell us that these two patients were also getting organs from the same person. One the donor's heart and one the other lung. Three families, total strangers, brought together by an amazing gift and with cautious optimism and hope for the future.

But somewhere, I do not know if in that same hospital or even the same city, there was another family. A family experiencing the most devastating and unimaginable loss. On Christmas Eve. My heart still breaks every time I think of them in that moment. And how they were somehow able to put aside their shock and grief and sadness and make the decision to donate their loved one's organs. So that my dad, and many others, could live.

My dad was wheeled into the operating room shortly after midnight on Christmas Day. The nurses later told us that he led them in singing Christmas carols on the way. He loved Christmas and his joy was infectious. I will always remember the doctors and nurses, called away from their homes and families on Christmas, and how happy they seemed to be. They knew the amazing work that they were doing and what it meant to us.

At 5:30am on Christmas Day, the surgeon came to the waiting room and told my family that the transplant was a success. There would be a long road to recovery, but we had hope. My dad had a new lung. He wouldn't be tethered to an oxygen tank. It was a true Christmas miracle.

My dad with my newborn sons.
My dad passed away, suddenly from complications of pneumonia, on March 28, 2014. His new lung gave him 3 years and 3 months of life, a precious and amazing gift that he never once took for granted.  In those 1,188 days he saw the birth of my children, his last 2 grandchildren, and lived to hear them call him "pap-pap." He got to spend 3 more years with my mom, the love of his life for 50 years. He went to the US Open and to his grandkids' sporting events and dance recitals. He made new friends and spent time with family near and far. He watched his children and grandchildren thrive and flourish. He lived every moment of those days, often saying that "today is a good day, even if it rains."

My dad wrote a thank you letter to his donor's family (he was not given any information about the donor, however he was able to give his letter to the transplant center and they then gave it to the family.) The family chose not to contact us, and I completely understand and respect their choice. I will never be able to thank them for their gift to us, this Christmas miracle, but I would like them to know that I think of them often. I think of their loss and how difficult this time of year must be for them. I think of their pain and how they pushed it aside to make their decision. I hope that somehow they know that their gift was treasured and that it gives them some measure of peace.

Transplants are miracles that happen every day, not just on Christmas. And they are miracles that only happen because people choose to give the gift of life. If you are not an organ donor, I ask you to please become one. Become someone's angel. Tell your family of your desire to donate your organs and help them to create a miracle should the unthinkable happen.

For more information on organ donation, visit Or consider supporting an amazing organization that assists transplant recipients and their families, the National Foundation for Transplants.

Laura R

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  1. Great write up and I 100% agree. March 24 will be 20 years since my dad died, but I will always be thankful for the extra years he was gifted thanks to a kidney donation!

  2. A beautifully written story. I am glad you got those extra years with your dad.