The Gift of Life: Faith’s Story
It was 25 years ago that Faith Carlin sat down to write an impossibly difficult letter. It was to the parents who’d lost their son in an automobile accident; he was an organ donor and she’d received his kidney and pancreas and a new life.
“My mom convinced me that I should write a letter to the family of the stranger who saved my life. I didn’t know what to say,” she said. “I knew they must be grieving and I didn’t know if they wanted to hear from me.”
But Carlin’s mother had helped bestow her with a profound spirituality, and she was inclined to heed her advice. So she wrote the letter. That gesture greatly expanded the gift she’d received from 27-year-old Doug Shriver, because she got his family, too. She’s been in regular contact ever since with his parents, his siblings, his daughter, and two grandsons he never lived to see.
Carlin received Shriver’s kidney and pancreas at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia on July 7, 1992. Diabetes had ravaged her health and she wasn’t even sure she’d survive. It was another in a series of blows that had besieged her: she’d become a widow at the age of 26 when her first husband of six years died of leukemia; her best friend was killed the day after her wedding by a drunk driver; she’d been diagnosed with diabetes at 15. It was enough to break the spirit of another person. But not Carlin.
“I’m not a person who dwells on the negative. I was so thankful for the second chance that I wanted to live a life pleasing to God and a life that would show how thankful I was to my donor.”
“I didn’t understand why things were happening so tragically, but I knew God was in control,” she said. “I had tremendous faith that no matter what happened, I would be OK—whether I lived or died. That’s a lot of peace.”
Not only did Carlin survive, but she went on to have a life she’d never expected. “I thought I’d die in my 30’s,” she said. Now, she’s 56 and lives in Willow Grove with her second husband. She has two daughters and has spent her life advocating for organ donation as a volunteer and staff member through the Gift of Life organization and affiliated programs. She won a medal in bicycling at the transplant Olympics in 1996—and gave the medal to Doug’s family.
A quarter of a century later, she never takes her gift for granted.
“God just blessed me with a thankful personality to begin with,” she said. “I’m not a person who dwells on the negative. I was so thankful for the second chance that I wanted to live a life pleasing to God and a life that would show how thankful I was to my donor.”
Carlin now works as a research coordinator for the Transplant Pregnancy Registry International—which collects data from men and women who have children after receiving a transplant. She never stops advocating for organ donation, pointing out that, on average, 20 people die every day waiting for a transplant. There are 5,600 people in the Philadelphia region on the waiting list for an organ.
On Thanksgiving Day, Faith Carlin and her family will say a special prayer for Doug Shriver and his family—a quarter of a century after she wrote the letter thanking them for the gift she’d received.
“I’m so pleased that they know how thankful I am and how their gifts have continued to bless me throughout the years,” she said.