One Life Lost, Another Saved: In Rare Moment, Lung Transplant Recipient Meets Donor's Mother


"I have to remind myself… that he would have passed away whether or not I was getting his lungs," she said. "I had no control over that situation. They only thing that I can really do is live my life to the extent that I'm showing him honor."

It's highly unusual for organ donor recipients to find out who their donors were, but Lyndsey contacted the Organ donor network and discovered the donor's family was as eager to connect as she was. One donor, she learned, had his own, remarkable story.

Adrian Rodriguez, was an 18-year-old high school senior, a charmer with a passion for cooking.

PHOTO: Adrian Rodriguez was just 18 years old when he fell and was struck by a subway train in New York City. His mother had to make the difficult decision to donate his organs.
Courtesy Diana Rodriguez
PHOTO: Adrian Rodriguez was just 18 years old when he fell and was struck by a subway train in New York City. His mother had to make the difficult decision to donate his organs.

Diana Rodriguez's only son, Adrian, thrived at the Marta Valle High School on Manhattan's Lower East Side, which was a long commute from his home in the Bronx but had the courses he wanted. Mimi Fortunato was the school principal when Adrian attended and has fond memories of him.

"The first time I met Adrian, he bounced into my office with a tray of pastries in hand and beautiful cucumber salad in the other and said, 'good morning, Miss Mimi, I am Chef Adrian,' and I thought he was the culinary arts teacher," she said.

Adrian went on to create his own cooking show, which he recorded in the school's teaching kitchen. Dexter Hannibal, the school's college advisor helped Adrian apply for scholarships to culinary schools.

"When you saw him, he was always in his chef outfit, in black pants, always," he said.

Life was good. Adrian had his eye on the future and was committed to his dream of becoming a professional chef. But on April 1, 2011, tragedy struck. His mother said Adrian left for school wearing new shoes that day. It's believed Adrian slipped and fell on the subway platform as the train pulled in, and the train clipped his head. He was rushed to Bellevue Hospital, where his mother said she waited six hours to see him.

"[The doctor] told me that he was in bad condition," Diana said. "I was in panic mode, don't know what to say, what to think."

When Diana was finally taken to her son's bedside, she said he was tethered by tubes. Adrian had a fractured skull and was on a ventilator. At 10 p.m. on April 1, 2011, Adrian was declared brain dead. He was gone, but his organs were still intact.

"When the folks from the New York Organ Donor Network approached Adrian's mother, I was there," Mimi Fortunato said. "At first she didn't quite fully understand, I mean, how could that be, he's not, he's not here, how could you take his heart. He needs it."

"I did say, 'leave me alone,'" Diana said. "I wanted to be left alone. I just wanted to take my son's body and just go."

But in the end, Diana made the difficult decision to agree to donate Adrian's organs. Lyndsey received his lungs.

"The two things I could think of was how lucky we were and how unfortunate she was," Lyndsey's mother, Donna said. "As a mother, I just can't imagine how she felt that day, and we were just so grateful and somehow, I just hope she knew how grateful we were that her son saved my daughter's life."

At an extraordinary meeting, Lyndsey and her family got to thank Diana, face-to-face.

"It's crazy for me to think that she can literally put her hands here," Lyndsey, touching her chest, "and she can feel it's him breathing. It's him breathing and I'm breathing with him."

Lyndsey and Adrian's mother now share a special bond that can never be broken, as do three other people who received Adrian's heart, pancreas and liver.

"I think about him every day," Lyndsey said. "When I went to the Great Barrier Reef and I was snorkeling… [and thinking] 'can you believe we're here, I can't believe we're doing this. I'm here because you did this for me.'"

"I thank him all the time," she added.

For more information about how to register as an organ, tissue and eye donor, visit Donate Life website HERE, and for more information about the New York Organ Donor Network, visit their website HERE.

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