Central teacher meets the family of her heart donor
By Ami Mizell-Flint | San Angelo Standard Times
While the death of 14-year-old Dillon Roberts of Floresville brought heartache and sadness to his family, their decision to donate his organs brought hope and life to five others.
San Angeloan Sarah Pipkin, recipient of Dillon's heart, met with Dillon's family for the first time on March 18. After speaking on the phone and exchanging emails, they met in person in San Antonio.
"I'm connected already, and ready to meet them," she said before the meeting, adding that while she had some information about the boy, "I can't wait to know much more."
Pipkin knew that Dillon was active in sports. A soccer player herself, Pipkin, 25, was hoping the heart she received would be from an athlete. Dillon played basketball, baseball and football, and hunted with his dad.
After getting the call on June 29 that a match had been found, Pipkin said she prayed for the family during the drive to a San Antonio hospital from a friend's house in Killeen. "Before I said anything," she recalled, "I said, 'Please keep them and hold them. I can't imagine what they're going through.'"
"I think about the donor all the time," Pipkin said. During a recent indoor soccer game, she realized it was Dillon's birthday. When she got her first goal, she looked up and said, "Dillon, that's for you."
Dillon's parents and sister were just as eager to meet Pipkin. After the accident that changed their lives forever, they recalled a conversation Dillon had with his father while hunting, where he had expressed an interest in organ donation.
They decided to donate their son's organs so other lives could be saved.
"We were aware of the fact that he could touch others' lives," said Terri Roberts, Dillon's mom.
Roberts remembers the last conversation she had with her son, when he asked if he could ride his dirt bike with friends.
She said no at first. But he got close to her, looked up and said, "Mom, I love you, please let me go."
She gave him permission, and told him to be safe and to wear his helmet.
A couple of hours later, a police officer knocked at the door and told her about an accident. At the crash scene, Roberts wasn't allowed to see her son. Because it was an investigation, she had to leave his helmet where it lay on the ground.
She asked the officer how bad Dillon's injuries were. "I knew when she looked at the ground he was gone," Roberts said. "They were just keeping him alive through resuscitation."
When the family was approached about organ donation, they knew it was the right thing to do. "We did what I would want to have done," Roberts said, "I would beg someone to donate their organs."
Pipkin was born with aortic stenosis, a heart disease that decreases blood flow as the aortic valve narrows. She had surgery at 2 weeks old, then grew up "as a regular kid." Doctors told her that her body would tell her when her heart would need to be replaced.
After playing soccer as a child and throughout college, Pipkin's heart began to show signs of decline. "I went from running five miles and lifting weights," she said, "to struggling to walk a flight of stairs."
A math and special education teacher at Central High School, Pipkin had to wear a backpack with medications for her heart and lungs while waiting for the surgery. She said she prayed every day that she would not pass out in front of the students.
After the surgery, she was quickly able to exercise and "get back to the life that I love," she said.
"I can't wait to show them the success that I've had," Pipkin said before meeting the Roberts family. "Hopefully the Lord just gives me the words to say."
Any concerns the families had about meeting each other were quickly put to rest when Pipkin and her family walked into the room where the Robertses waited.
After hugging Dillon's sister, Alexa, Pipkin embraced the boy's parents. Dillon's father, Mark, held Pipkin for a long time, feeling his son's heart beating inside her.
Tears of sadness, but also of thanks, were shed by both families. As she hugged Pipkin's mother, Jan Pipkin, Terri Roberts told her, "I'm so happy for y'all."
The families seemed to know instantly that this would not be their only meeting. "I come from a small family," Pipkin said. "To expand my family is a huge blessing. It's been my hope and prayer."
"We just want you to know that you're part of the family," Terri told her.
"If you ever need anything, we're a phone call away," Mark added.
The families exchanged scrapbooks so that each could get to know Pipkin and Dillon.
Pipkin made a scrapbook of her life for the Roberts family, starting with her first surgery and including highlights of events throughout her life, her collegiate soccer years and the time she spent on medications before her heart transplant surgery. "I wanted to show them how I've been able to live life to its fullest," she said.
The Pipkins looked through the scrapbook the Roberts family brought, taking in images of the red-haired little boy who gave life to five others after losing his own.
"Recovery is very hard," Terri Roberts said. "We still think we hear (Dillon) down the hallway." Dillon's dog, Sandy, still waits at the door of his bedroom, which remains the way he left it.
Sarah Pipkin is ever-aware that she owes her life to the decision Dillon and his family made to donate organs.
"Organ donation is so important," Jan Pipkin said. "We are blessed that the family made the decision so Sarah could go on. We'll never be able to put into words what that means for us.
By the numbers
Number of people registered as organ donors in the Concho Valley:
Tom Green 16,670
Because of a Texas organ donor registry that is new and updated in the past several years, many people think they are organ donors but are not on the current registry. Donors have a heart on the lower right corner of their driver’s license.
To register as an organ donor, go to donatelifetexas.org.
“Becoming an organ donor puts the family at ease, so they don’t have to make that decision,” said Clarissa Thompson, donor family/volunteer service coordinator for Texas Organ Sharing Alliance.
There is a severe shortage of organ donors in this country. As of January, there are more than 110,000 patients on the national waiting list in need of an organ transplant. Of those, 10,400 are Texans.
More than half of those awaiting a transplant in the U.S. are minorities.
A new name is added to the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list every 16 minutes.
Donation does not disfigure the body or prevent an open casket funeral.
Organ and tissue donation is considered only after all efforts to save the patient’s life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared.
There is no major religion in the U.S. that is opposed to organ and tissue donation. In fact, many religions endorse organ and tissue donation as an act of charity.
SOURCE: Texas Organ Sharing Alliance