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Saving Lives through Organ Donation

April is National Donate Life Month. Learn one family’s experience and how you can register to be an organ, eye, or tissue donor. Pictured, Nancy Noon and her daughter Robyn Agnew.

Robyn Agnew, a certified nurse midwife at Kaiser Permanente Fresno, wasn’t with her mom when she passed away from a massive stroke in Lake Tahoe.

But she was able to stay by her bedside afterward, as hospital staff prepared to respectfully recover her 79-year-old mom’s organs in hopes of saving other lives.

The experience left Agnew wanting to raise awareness about organ donation, along with a desire to encourage others to sign themselves up.

According to Donor Network West, 1 organ donor can save up to 8 lives through donation and heal as many as 75 lives through eye and tissue donation.

A Final Goodbye

Nancy Noon on one of her many ski trips.

Agnew’s mom, Nancy Noon, was an avid skier, world traveler, and grandmother of 7. In February, she went on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe with her husband, Trey, to celebrate their 34-year wedding anniversary.

She was on her third run of the day, at the top of Heavenly Valley, when she told Trey that he needed to get her off the mountain right away. Noon, who was a critical care nurse for 40 years, knew something wasn’t right, Agnew said. Trey, a retired firefighter, took one look at his wife and asked if she was having a stroke.

“My mom looked at him and said, ‘I’m so sorry,’” Agnew said. “He laid her down and held her in his arms until the helicopter arrived.”

It only took 12 minutes to get Nancy Noon to Renown Hospital in Reno, but a massive stroke had left her with no hope for recovery and on life support. Officials with Donor Network West approached Trey about the possibility of organ donation.

Agnew said her mom was a staunch supporter of organ donation and had previously told her family she wanted to participate. Knowing her wishes, the family agreed to the donation.

Agnew and her family stayed with Nancy Noon at the hospital over the next 4 days. On the day of the surgery, Agnew walked alongside her mom as she was wheeled down a long hallway, where 50 nurses were standing at attention, lining both sides.

Known as the Honor Walk — a symbolic way of honoring organ donors as they are wheeled into surgery — the sight left Agnew overcome with emotion.

“It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I leaned down and said my final goodbye to Mom.”

A Life Gone But 2 More Saved

Recently, a letter from Donor Network West arrived at Trey Noon’s house in San Jose. It said one person received a kidney and liver from Nancy Noon and her other kidney went to a second person, adding extensive years onto their lives. Her lungs were donated to research.

Agnew said hearing her mom’s organs saved 2 other people was life-changing for her.

She is speaking at a Donor Network West meeting soon and will share the story of her mom’s organ donation, hoping she can encourage others to register.

“I want to do something that honors my mom,” Agnew said. “It’s just so satisfying to know she saved 2 other lives.”

For more information about organ donation and how to register, visit Donor Network West.