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How to Write a Thank You Letter to an Organ Donor Family

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I enjoy giving ideas to people who struggle coming up with difficult thank you letters.

My father's ICU room number while recovering from an 8 hour transplant surgery.  Much of what we chose to communicate to the donor family originated here.

My father's ICU room number while recovering from an 8 hour transplant surgery. Much of what we chose to communicate to the donor family originated here.

Organ Donor Thank You Letter

Thank you letters are a wonderful way to reveal to others a little more of who you are. It is a means of letting people get a peek into our compassionate and tender worlds—and a peek into our worlds of gratitude. Never has this been more true than the time when my father asked me to help him craft a letter of thanks for his organ donation. The day was January 24, 2011.

Writing a personal letter of gratitude for an organ donation is the ultimate humbling experience. How do you even begin with thanking someone for a gift of life? Words don't seem capable of describing how thankful we were for the donation nor expressing how fortunate we felt to have been given a second chance. Never mind explaining how meaningful their gift was to us and our family.

Or are they?

I would like to believe that with the proper amount of thoughtfulness and sincerity, a heartfelt thank you can be written. I never considered it a choice to write or not to write. It was just a matter of time until I was able to collect my thoughts. In fact, I felt it was a true blessing to have the opportunity to put pen to paper. Undoubtedly, I had a burning desire to communicate to the recipients of my letter that they were infinitely special for making the ultimate sacrifice.

Why It's Important

Saying thank you is as much about the writer as it is about the reader. It is a social grace that benefits both parties equally, a real means to nurture the human spirit. Personally, saying thank you allows me to reflect on my blessings and helps me remember to be kind to others. Organ donation is no exception to this rule, and perhaps quite to the contrary, it is a powerful reminder of how wonderful gift giving and receiving truly are.

The death of a family member is one of the most difficult experiences we face. But in the midst of pain and grief, many families make a brave decision to help others who are critically ill through organ donations. Knowing first-hand how the organ recipient's life has changed and what they have been able to do since getting a transplant can help give meaning to the senselessness surrounding their loss. Sharing such uplifting information can both help the organ recipient with their recovery as well as help the donor family through their grieving process.

All this to say that actually writing your letter is not an easy task. It is difficult to find a proper beginning and decide on what to say. I also remember feeling uneasy about contacting a family who had suffered a tragic loss while my father was alive and well. However, by and large, I believe that donor families do want to hear from their loved ones' recipients, as it would be quite natural to wonder who the recipient is and how he/she is recovering from their illness. People have an innate need to know.

Key Components of a Well Crafted Thank You Note

Let's back up and review some key components of a well-crafted thank you letter. These are guidelines for matters relating to organ transplantation, too.

  1. Write your thank you letter by hand: A handwritten note immediately indicates thoughtfulness and caring and gives it the attention it deserves.
  2. Take the time to think and draft your letter before you write: An error-free letter not only looks professional but gives the reader a sense of importance in your choice of words.
  3. Do not use canned and expected language: To avoid running the risk of being perceived as someone lacking an honest thought, mention specifics about the gift you received.
  4. Sincerity is key: Avoid exaggerations and focus on highlighting a few specifics about the gift so as to remain credible with your message.
  5. Compose a well-thought-out closure: Think about a special close that truly encapsulates the spirit of your letter.

Key Information to Include

Keep in mind that your donor's family will have received very little information about their loved one's organ recipient. This is purely due to the confidentiality rules of any transplant program. At most, they might have been told about the recipient's gender, age and state in which they live in, much like we only knew a few key pieces of information about the organ donor.

Remember that grieving the loss of a loved one is a process which unfolds differently from person to person. Assume that the donor's family is still grieving, regardless of how much time has passed. Communicating with sensitivity is of utmost importance.

The following are a few suggestions of what to include in your letter

  1. Open your letter with "Dear Donor Family"
  2. Thank the donor family for their gift
  3. Speak about your transplant experience—consider including details surrounding your wait, the surgery and recovery
  4. Elaborate how the transplant has changed your life
  5. Use first names only and talk about yourself and your family
  6. Mention your occupation and any activities which you once again can enjoy
  7. Include photos (void of identifying information)

Information to Exclude

There is just one simple but important rule of the information that should never find its way into an organ donation thank you letter. The letter should not include any personal information which might identify you or the donor family. To that end, do not include any references to last names, street addresses or cities, phone numbers, emails, or names of hospitals or physicians. This is of utmost importance so as to respect the privacy of the donor family and the recipient.

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Sample Thank You Letter to Organ Donor Family


Dear Donor Family –

It is with the utmost respect and gratitude that we send this letter to you and thank you for the miracle that has happened to our family. We were the lucky recipients of your donation, which changed our lives like nothing else ever has or ever will. At the center of our story is ‘just’ one person, but clearly, we have all been blessed with the ultimate gift.

My name is (list name), and I am (description of yourself). I reside in (state) with my (list family member names), and I have (list names of children and grandchildren, if applicable).

Our journey began in (insert date). I had the great fortune to relocate to the east coast in search of a life-saving liver transplant surgery. My health had deteriorated to a point that required urgent attention, yet the lengthy waitlist provided little to no hope.

My first transplant surgery took place on (date of transplant), much sooner than we anticipated. And although we celebrated the surgery as a success, I encountered a major setback due to a collapsed artery just two months into my recovery. After countless procedures and tests, it was clear that a re-transplant was necessary. We were obviously shocked and scared about my diagnosis and prognosis.

The news of a re-transplant also marked my return to the hospital, where the wait began for the second time. I knew that I was in great hands with my family, doctors and nurses by my bedside, but also well aware that I was in critical condition and only another (even bigger) miracle would now save my life.

We will never forget (date of transplant), which I have come to consider my new birthday. After a very long and difficult surgery and two weeks in the ICU, I first came to understand the meaning of second (third) chances. Earlier this month, I passed my discharge exams, allowing me to finally bid farewell to the hospital and say hello to my new life. My check-ups are frequent, and the rehabilitation requires a lot of work, but that's indeed a small price to pay.

I am very happy to report that I returned back home just a few weeks ago. I am continuing to recover well and am focusing my energy on gaining strength and weight. The sunshine is also doing its share as our spirits are high, and we have an eye on a bright future. I know I will soon be able to return to the things I enjoy the best: (list activities).

We recognize that this most wonderful accomplishment would not have been possible without the selfless act of you and your loved one. Miracles do happen!


(Your name & your dependents' names)

Comments on July 28, 2018:

Where do I send the note in greater little rock ar? Who is the gatekeeper for such requests?

Melanie Palen from Midwest, USA on May 22, 2012:

This is a really nice way to thank somebody. I bet anyone who donates an organ or has a family member that donated an organ, would be really proud to receive a thank you letter. This is a neat idea. :)

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