Couple honors their daughters, thanks community at organ-donor event

by: COURTESY PHOTO - The firefighters who responded to the emergency call after two girls were struck and killed by a car showed up at Saturdays Donate Life Northwest event to promote organ-donor signups.Susan Dieter-Robinson barely remembers that conversation about organ donation or how it even came up, back when her two girls were still alive and she was driving them somewhere in the car. She mainly remembers that Anna had trouble understanding the separation of body from soul.

Anna was 6 and her sister Abigail was 11 when the two “went to heaven” as their parents say, after being struck by a car last October.

In addition to heart-shattering grief, the experience brought new meaning to a casual decision Dieter-Robinson made years ago, probably when she was 16 and getting her driver’s license: She checked the box for organ donation.

Today, “checking that box means something completely different,” she said last week, during a press event to publicize an “afternoon of healing and education” at Forest Grove High School, where Dieter-Robinson and her husband, Tom Robinson, wore their “Ask me how to save a life” T-shirts from Donate Life Northwest (DLN) as they encouraged people to sign up or spread the word about organ donation.

About 130 people showed up Saturday, including DLN representatives and one particular staff member who described how two kidney transplants kept her alive.

Dieter-Robinson hopes the event and the publicity will help her friend Carole Golart tell the same story.

Robinson and Dieter-Robinson met Golart through their involvement in Theatre in the Grove’s production of “Annie,” where Abigail, too, had been chosen for the cast. The couple continued on even after the accident, partly because the show allowed them to escape, Dieter-Robinson said: “We created a world that was not ours.”by: COURTESY PHOTO - Susan Dieter-Robinson and Tom Robinson wear Donate Life Northwest T-shirts with the slogan on the back: Ask me how to save a life! They spoke to about 130 people Saturday, encouraging them to become organ donors and to spread the word.

While doing so, “we met an extraordinary woman who was waiting for a kidney,” she said.

“Carole was attempting to teach me choreography,” Robinson said.

Golart, a Pacific University graduate and Hillsboro resident, experienced kidney failure in 2012 after eight years of kidney disease.

Last week was her one-year anniversary of being on the transplant list, where the average wait is two years, she said.

Of the 3,407 Pacific Northwest residents waiting for a donor organ, 81 percent are waiting for a kidney, according to DLN. Thousands more await a tissue or cornea transplant.

Although 74 percent of Oregon adults are registered to become donors, less than 1 percent of the roughly 30,000 who died in 2012 were able to do so, according to DLN.

Golart, who needs a blood transfusion every four weeks, has mixed feelings about her hoped-for transplant. “It just hits that a life has to be lost before I can get my life back,” she said.

But that thought was one of the few Dieter-Robinson says she could cling to as she watched Abigail being wheeled into surgery to have her organs, tissue and eyes removed for transplanting purposes.

“I distinctly thought, ‘Someone will be getting a call,’” she said.

The couple knows Abigail’s liver went to an 8-year-old boy and her corneas went to a 9-year-old.

Both kidneys went to middle-aged men, one of whom sent a letter describing his gratitude for the new life Abigail had given him. One of the man’s family members also wrote with thanks.

“I never thought I’d have joy again,” said Dieter-Robinson, adding that it’s “a different kind of joy.”

“You wear your sorrow all the time,” said Robinson. “It doesn’t leave, even when you feel joy,” which is what he says he feels “knowing the girls are still having an impact on people’s lives.”

The couple describe a kind of “pride” in what Abigail has done.

“It’s very different from getting an ‘A’ on a report card,” Dieter-Robinson said. “An ‘A’ on a report card means nothing compared to this.”

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