clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Teacher's liver donation saves life of her pastor's father

At Philadelphia Baptist Church, it is hard at times to say blood runs thicker than water.

DEVILLE, La. — At Philadelphia Baptist Church, it is hard at times to say blood runs thicker than water.

When Donna Kirkland Reed died in January at the age of 57, her daughters wrote in her obituary "Donna has many nieces and nephews and friends and family, by blood and by choice."

And no one understands those words quite like the Reed family's pastor at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville. At their church, the Rev. Philip Robertson on Jan. 13 officiated a "celebration service for the going home of Donna Reed."

"It was one of the toughest things I've ever done," Robertson said afterward.

He spoke about her new home in heaven, saying, "She's more alive now than she's ever been."

Actually, Robertson spent much of his time talking about that paradox in the Bible that teaches, "out of death comes life."

"Our Lord gave his life because he knew that out of death would come life. I believe that Mrs. Donna understood that spiritually without question," Robertson said during the service, "and I think she also understood it physically."

He was referring to the fact that Reed was an organ donor — the organ donor who saved his dad's life.

Robertson was there the night in Rapides Regional Medical Center in Alexandria when the doctors brought the news to Reed's family that "in most cases, her condition is not survivable."

Not much earlier that evening, Reed had been out eating with her husband, Marvin, and some of their friends when she developed a headache. In less than an hour, they were at the hospital where the Reed family learned she was experiencing hemorrhaging in her brain.

"I don't think I realized how serious her condition was when I first brought her in," Marvin Reed said. "I started praying to God that she would walk out of that hospital and I really believed it."

But Marvin Reed's prayers and countless others were answered unexpectedly.

Donna Reed, a beloved school teacher in Rapides Parish for more than 30 years and an active church member at Philadelphia, had invested her life into everyone she met, the Reed family said. That was evidenced by the fact that more than 1,000 people came to pay their respects during her visitation and funeral.

But her impact was not through yet.

Marvin Reed and his daughters, Jenna Barnes and Jessica Dubea, knew there was one wish they wanted to honor.

"It was important to her to be a donor," Jenna said. "I remember when I got my license or even when I renewed it. Mom always asked about it."

They remembered something else, too. Robertson's father, Louis Robertson, who lives in Tickfaw, had been on a transplant list for several months after being diagnosed about two years ago with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a disease that slowly was killing his liver.

The family wondered if it was possible to designate a recipient for her liver.

The Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency said the family could do that, but did not give them any false hope — designating a liver was one thing — having it be a match was another.

Marvin Reed went ahead and told Robertson they wanted to try.

"Medically speaking, the odds are a million-to-one that it would actually be a match," Philip remembered hearing.

The Robertson family was well aware it was common to wait years for a match, but Robertson had been praying his dad would not reach "death's door before he would get a transplant."

Louis Robertson and his wife Virginia said they lived by their phones for months.

"You were just on pins and needles. You couldn't go anywhere because they wanted you to be able to leave within 30 minutes of a phone call," Virginia said.

"It's pretty traumatic . I can't imagine having to go through it for two years," Louis said. "I even got a call at one point, and they wanted to come as backup for a double transplant. Philip said 'Well Dad, let's just pray it's the right liver, the right surgeon and the right timing."

It was not, but against the "million-to-one" odds — Donna Reed's was "the right liver."

"The surgeons at Ochsner made it clear that was almost impossible," Louis said. "I know people all over the country that have prayed. God heard and answered. There's no other explanation for it."

Just a day after Donna Reed's death, Philip Robertson drove down to Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans for the surgery where his father was experiencing mixed emotions thinking about the Reed family.

"It was quite an emotional thing. They're just such a good family," Louis said.

That is why Louis was overwhelmed when he woke up the next morning to see Marvin Reed had driven to New Orleans with several other Philadelphia Baptist Church members to check on him.

"When Marvin came in, and he hugged my dad, it just did something for dad," Philip said because it gave him the opportunity to know how much peace the family had.

"We've always loved the Robertsons," Jenna said. "We want them to be happy and be excited. It's God's providence that it happened."

The Reed family said they give all the credit to God for the strength they have experienced in the last month. And they said Donna left them with a lot of comfort as well.

"We all have our strong times, our weak times and our meltdowns," Marvin Reed said. "I'm grieving, but I know Donna's right there saying 'Y'all keep going.'"

Philip Robertson said the Reed family's response impacted not only his dad, but his entire church.

"It's almost like a revival," he said. "(Seeing) the family's response and graciousness . and the undeniable fact that God's hand was at work."

Although the Reeds have learned to appreciate the bonds within their church even more, the one that stands out most has been with the Robertson family. Now, Marvin Reed calls Philip Robertson "half-son," and Philip Robertson and Reed's two daughters call each other brother and sister — all "by choice."

Philip said some people might call the whole situation luck, but they say it was all part of God's plan.

According to the doctors at Ochsner, Donna Reed's liver was in such good condition that had it not been designated for Louis Reed, more than 5,000 would have been on the receiving list before him. And although there can be a number of complications that go along with a transplant, Louis did "exceptionally" well and was able to leave the hospital less than two weeks later.

The Robertsons said there is no way to express their gratitude to the Reeds.

"The eight letters that comprise the words 'thank you' are not sufficient for this incredible gift of life," Philip Robertson said. "Every day my daddy wakes up, every time he hugs his granddaughters, every opportunity he has to serve the Lord is a thank you."

Information from: Alexandria Daily Town Talk,