Giving the gift of life

Bereaved mother becomes advocate after daughter’s organ donation lets several others live

  • Marcy Robitaille

  • Tom Rich

Recorder Staff
Friday, April 15, 2016

Makenzie Goode died in 2010, but her heart went on beating for someone else. Her lungs saved someone else, her pancreas a third person, her liver a fourth and her kidneys two more.

The 17-year-old Pioneer Valley Regional School senior was driving from her home in Warwick to the Northfield school on a January morning when she lost control of her car on the slick road and struck a fire hydrant.

“She should have spun out into the cornfields, but it just happened,” said her mother, Marcy Robitaille. She was taken by helicopter ambulance to the University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where her family waited as doctors performed a battery of tests. Robitaille said she knew the doctors would soon ask her to consider organ donation.

“Kenzie was basically just going to be confined to a bed and be lifeless on life support for the rest of her life and we knew we couldn’t do that to her, so Kenzie donated her organs,” Robitaille said. “She saved six lives.”

Kenzie’s mother has since corresponded with five of the organ recipients and met three. She watched as one celebrated the wedding of his eldest daughter last year.

“I think that my daughter would have wanted that and I just feel like I have this extra chapter to my life that other parents might not have if they opted not or didn’t know what to do or if they were eligible for it. At least I’ve got this extra chapter of Makenzie’s life,” Robitaille said.

At first, Robitaille said, she told very few of that extra chapter, although it later transpired that many around her had heard anyway. She has since published a book, “Wish You a Goode Journey,” begun keeping a blog on Christian faith and inspiration at AGodwink.com and volunteers with Donate Life New England to encourage donor registration.

She spoke this week at the Athol Public Library alongside Tom Rich of Phillipston for National Donate Life Month. Rich owes his continued life to an organ donation, and similarly volunteers with Donate Life. Born with a rare and intermittently debilitating kidney disease, Rich said he spent a lot of his youth in Athol Hospital, but made it to 60 before he was left with no option but dialysis or transplant. The new kidney came from a source both likely and unlikely — his son. Adopted from South Korea, they had no reason to believe he would be a genetic match. Rich said he was initially lukewarm to the idea of testing, but assumed they wouldn’t be a match anyway. It turns out they were. Rich said his son couldn’t understand why he wasn’t doing backflips at the prospect of a new kidney and a chance to be healthy for the first time in his life.

Rich and Robitaille said it’s important to talk to family about organ donation.

Robitaille said she was thankful she had already had that conversation with her daughter when the moment came. Rich was won over by his son’s plans and backup plans to make sure he got a kidney, including a donation tree — a sort of multi-donor swap — in case he wasn’t a match.

According to Donate Life New England, 30,000 organ transplants are performed each year in the United States, with organs and tissue from 8,500 dead and 6,000 living donors, but 125,000 are on the national waiting list and 8,000 die waiting each year. Of those waiting, 80 percent are in need of a kidney, among the organs that can be given by a living donor.

More information on donation can be found at DonateLifeNewEngland.org.

You can reach Chris Curtis at: ccurtis@recorder.com