By Crystal Hayduk
[Note: This article is the follow-up to the story about Eric Robinson’s liver donation, published here.]
Eric Robinson is too humble to call himself a hero.
But he is.
Hundreds of people who know him personally and professionally, as well as the healthcare providers who have known him since he volunteered to be an organ donor two years ago, agree.
Robinson is the anonymous hero to the young person whose life was saved through his altruistic liver donation, and to that child’s family and friends. He fits the Merriam-Webster definition of a hero as “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.”
His noble qualities make him a hero to our family, too. I first met Robinson in 2007 when our middle daughter, Katie Rae, was in his first-grade class at North Creek Elementary School. Her kindergarten teacher, Lexa O’Brien, told me Katie Rae would love being in his class because Mr. Robinson is musical and energetic—qualities the two had in common.
Robinson was inspirational. Katie Rae had debuted on stage as Gretl in the Chelsea Area Players’ production of “The Sound of Music” the summer before first grade, was continuing in dance, and starting piano lessons as school began. This kid sang, danced, and played her way through life, so having a teacher who understood her motivation helped her to love school and take joy in learning—two critical factors for a student’s early success.
In addition to positive energy, Robinson extended empathy to meet his students’ emotional needs. My father died in mid-December. In the months that followed, Robinson supported Katie Rae when she needed it.
She spent second grade with Robinson, too, when he “looped,” a term used when a teacher and students move to the next grade together. That spring, I was concerned because Katie Rae rarely had homework; and when she did, it took a great deal of parental attention to keep her focused. Since our oldest daughter was an independent and goal-oriented student, I needed guidance to help Katie Rae, especially anticipating more homework in third grade and beyond.
Mr. Robinson’s calm words of assurance have stuck with me over the years. He said Katie Rae is artsy, with her own way of learning that falls outside of my understanding and expectation. He advised not trying to change her, but instead to support her interests. Our challenge as parents and educators was to help her develop tools and find ways to maximize her opportunities for success as she traveled her path.
Fast forward to 2011, when our youngest daughter, Megan, also had Robinson for first grade. With Megan’s more traditional learning style and fretfulness when she was away from parents, I wondered how she would fit in his class. (Although she also was musical, so that was a plus.) But, Hero Robinson to the rescue as he skillfully championed her individuality. By the end of the year, she had grown tremendously, both academically and emotionally.
When our daughters learned that Robinson had donated part of his liver to a pediatric patient, they weren’t surprised by the news. They said of course he would do that, because that’s who Mr. Robinson is. “He’s a giver.”
Robinson agreed to share his story with the community to inspire others to give what they can. Maybe they can give something big like an organ or smaller like blood, or simply give a meal, donate money, or share time.
Following Robinson’s post-operative check-up only nine days after his surgery, he posted a picture with his transplant surgeon, Christopher Sonnenday, on Facebook. He wrote, “… Donation is not about taking something out of someone; it is all about giving a gift to someone else. I have zero regrets and would do it all again in a heartbeat.”
Who is Robinson’s hero?
“I don’t know that I have one,” he said. “I look up to people who aren’t one-time heroes—people who put others before themselves, who give of themselves every day, and are selfless people. This represents what it means to be a hero. People like medical professionals and first responders. And teachers—a lot of teachers are like that.”
It takes one to know one, Mr. Robinson.
Dr. Christopher Sonnenday, Surgical Director of Liver Transplantation for Michigan Medicine, provides more information about organ donation.
Q: What is important for the public to know about live organ donation?
A: Using data on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, as of Sept. 6, there are 103,298 Americans actively waiting for an organ transplant. Of those waiting, 95% need a liver or kidney. “For those two organs, living donation is an important option available to patients awaiting transplant,” said Sonnenday.
Living kidney donations have been performed since kidneys were first transplanted in the 1950s. Between 30-40% of all kidney transplants each year in the United States are a living donation where one of the donor’s two kidneys are removed and transplanted in the recipient.
The first living liver donation was performed in the 1990s. It involves removing a section of the donor’s liver, which is implanted in the recipient. “Because the liver is the one organ in the body (other than your skin) that can regenerate, both the portion remaining in the donor and the portion transplanted in the recipient will grow such that both the donor and recipient will have normal liver size and function within two to four weeks.
“Living donor liver transplantation is increasing in availability each year through the generosity of individuals such as Eric Robinson, and currently accounts for 6-7% of all liver transplants performed in the United States,” said Sonnenday.
Q: If someone is considering donating an organ, what should they know?
A: Potential living donors receive extensive evaluation to be sure they are in good health overall and to assess the health and anatomy of the organ they wish to donate. Because the goal of the donor evaluation is to ensure their safety, eligibility criteria to donate are restrictive. “At the UM Health Transplant Center, living liver donors must be between the ages of 21 and 55, have no major medical problems, and should have a body mass index under 35 (ideally under 30 at the time of donation),” said Sonnenday.
Q: Where can potential donors get more information?
A: Interested individuals can find more information at the UM Health Transplant Center website.
The American Liver Foundation has an excellent information center about living donation.
This health blog (updated Aug. 22, 2023) includes more information about living liver donation.
Individuals wishing to be considered as a living donor may fill out an online interest form, and they will be contacted by a living donor coordinator to share more information.