Donna Reed was known by many as a generous giver. Whether it was saying a prayer or going out of her way for others, Reed never seemed to miss a moment of giving to someone else.
When Reed died from a hemorrhage of irregular blood vessels in early January, her legacy lived on with one last gift – a donation of her liver, both kidneys, and her left lung.
But this was no ordinary organ donation. Reed didn’t give her liver to an anonymous donor as what typically happens. Reed’s kidney went to Louis Robertson, the father of her pastor, Philip Robertson of Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville, La., on behalf of the family’s request.
Given the minute chance that it could have been a match, and the fact that Louis Robertson had 5,000 people ahead of him waiting to receive a liver, Reed’s loved ones and friends consider it nothing short of a miracle.
“When you donate a liver and it’s a perfect match, with circumstances working out like they did, that’s like a million to one odds,” her husband Marvin Reed said. “So we recognize this as God’s providence.”
Donna Reed poses with her daughters, Jenna Barnes and Jessica Dubea. According to her daughters, Reed taught more than 4,000 youth during her 32-year teaching career.
On a Friday evening in January, Donna Reed spent an evening out with friends.
Shortly after ordering her food, she complained of pain in her forehead that traveled to the back of her head. Immediately, her husband drove her home but her condition didn’t improve and he took her to the hospital.
“She kept on saying she was okay,” Marvin Reed said. “Now knowing what we know, she was telling us is that she was okay spiritually but not physically.”
After arriving at the hospital, Donna Reed went into a coma. The week drudged on with small signs of improvement. She was breathing over a ventilator, her vitals were perfect, and she was showing brain activity. Six days into the hospital stay, the doctor said there was a major setback. The family was notified that she no longer had any brain activity. After Reed died, the family agreed to honor what she would have wanted – giving life to another.
Among those at the hospital with the family was Philip Robertson. His father, Louis Robertson, had been on the liver transplant list since October. In addition to a liver transplant for Louis, Reed also donated a left lung to a man who was 60 and her kidneys to two different 40-year-old men, though the family is unaware of who the recipients of those donations are.
The result of the liver transplant has resulted in a special bond between the Robertson and Reed families.
“With organ donations you never know who will get an organ,” said Reed’s daughter, Jessica Dubea. “For it to go to Mr. Louis who is a godly man and raised Brother Philip, we are very proud.”
Philip Robertson knew the odds of his dad receiving the liver were slim. When he found out that the Reed family had designated the liver to his dad, he was overcome with emotion.
Philadelphia Baptist Church pastor Philip Robertson, his father Louis Robertson and Marvin Reed, Donna Reed’s husband, stand together, The Robertson and Reed families have established a special bond after Donna Reed donated her liver to Louis Robertson.
“There’s a big difference in saying we want to designate this liver to your dad and this actually working,” Robertson said in his message during Reed’s celebration service at Philadelphia Baptist Church. “There have been numerous medical doctors who have told me from a medical standpoint that is unheard of, that it doesn’t happen.
“Some people say luck,” he said. “We say the providence of God and the sovereignty of God.”
Louis Robertson said he understands how God had His hand over this situation.
“God did this,” he said. “The Lord orchestrated this whole thing. There is no other explanation for how everything went so smoothly for me other than God.”
Fisher of people
As a follower of Christ, Reed touched many lives.
A teacher in Rapides Parish for 32 years, she invested in the lives of her students, family, church family and others in the community. She gave up Friday nights to babysit another couple’s kids, gave away prized recipes, participated in a mission trip and encouraged her students to strive to be better people. More than 1,000 people showed up for a nearly four-hour visitation and filled a worship center for her celebration service.
Jenna Barnes, Reed’s other daughter, said her mother taught more than 4,000 youth during her 32-year teaching career at Buckeye High School and Pineville High School, in addition to her involvement in various ministries at Philadelphia Baptist Church. Barnes said rarely a week went by without a former student telling someone in the family how her mom impacted their life.
“She led by example,” Barnes said. “They wanted to be around her because of the joy she carried.”
Philip Robertson, who was Reed’s pastor for nine years, said a person did not have to be around her long to realize she was a bright light to those around her. He said he is looking forward to the day when he gets to see her again.
“Jesus gave His life and out of His death came life,” Robertson said. “But He didn’t stay dead. He conquered death.
“So out of Ms. Donna’s death has come life but she is not dead,” he said. “She is alive because of the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and the fact she is rejoicing in Heaven. And she’s more alive now than she’s ever been. One day we’ll hug her. And she and Dad will hug and get to know one another and I’ll thank God for that.”
Robertson said whenever he looks at his dad, he will forever remember the ultimate gift Reed left behind for so many.
“The eight letters that say ‘thank you’ are not enough to say thank you for the gratitude me and my family have for life,” he said. “Every day my daddy wakes up and watches the sunrise with a cup of coffee in his hand, that’s his thank you. Every time he hugs his little granddaughter that’s our thank you. Every opportunity he has to serve the Lord is a thank you. I make you this promise. We will never forget. Never.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Blackwell is a staff writer for The Baptist Message, where this story first appeared.)