“The Letter” How to Write to Your Donor Family

Writing a personal letter of gratitude for an organ donation is the ultimate humbling experience. How do you begin to thank  someone for saving your life? Words don’t seem adequate when you would like to hug someone and hold their hand while you say think you.   It would seem almost impossible to express the gratitude you and your family feel.

Because of circumstances, though, words are your only choice therefore they should be carefully considered and come from your heart.  Your letter should show an appropriate amount of thoughtfulness and sincerity, it should not gush or be overly emotional. Balance is the key.

A handwritten letter is always best but, if your handwriting is like mine, a typed letter will be much easier for the recipient to read.

When you write, and I say when because “if” is usually not even a consideration , you should not only write and edit it yourself but also have someone you trust look it over.  Then read it out loud to the person to determine how he or she feels upon hearing the words.  This letter can be like no other you have ever written, because you will be talking to a total stranger; a family who lost a loved one and whose organ or tissue is now helping to keep you alive. Remember no matter when you write that the family may still be grieving.

Your letter cannot be sent directly from you to your donor family.  It must go through your transplant center.  Talk to  your coordinator or social worker about where to send you letter so it can be forwarded to your donor family.

Why A Thank You Letter is 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.  Organ donation is a powerful reminder of just how wonderful gift giving can be…especially when the gift is one of life.

The death of a family member is a horrible experience, regardless of the nature or time of death.  When organ donation is a consideration the experience can become even more traumatic because while in the depths of pain and grief families must also make the decision to help others who are critically ill by donating their loved ones organs and/or tissues.   Knowing first-hand how the recipient’s life has changed and what they have been able to do since their transplant can help give meaning to the senselessness surrounding their loss. Sharing such the emotions of a life saving experience can the organ recipients recovery as well as helping the donor family through their grieving process.

Key Components of a “Thank you donor family” Letter

  1. Write your thank you letter by hand if possible because it indicates thoughtfulness and caring, and gives it the attention it deserves.  If you type the letter explain why you are doing so.
  2. Always keep in mind who your audience is.  It is the donor family, not yourself.  Don’t lose sight of that simple fact.
  3. Take the time to think and draft your letter before you write: It should be error free and look professional so the reader knows you gave it considerable time and consideration.
  4. Do not use canned and expected language.  Avoid clichés and “Sympathy Card” pseudo poetry but you can include a brief   quote from a famous person.
  5. Sincerity is key: avoid exaggerations and focus on highlighting a few specifics about the gift so as to remain credible with your message
  6. Compose a well thought out closure: think about a special close that truly encapsulates the spirit of your letter

What to say and what not to say

In this first letter it is important that all parties remain anonymous.  You should not include any information that might lead to your identity.   That means you should not include last names, streets or numbers, email addresses names of hospitals and names of physicians and staff.  If there is further correspondence or contact and both parties agree to exchanging identities then and only then is it appropriate to do so.

The safest assumption you can make is that the donor family is still grieving, regardless how much time has passed. Communicating with sensitivity is of utmost importance.

Here are some suggestions of what to include in your letter but remember, it must come from the heart and the words must be yours:

  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)

Sample Organ Donation Thank You Letter


Dear Donor Family:

On August 21, 2007 I received a heart from your loved one. You, he and it saved my life. I promise I will take care of this gift far better than I took care of my own natural organ. Each day before I get up I take a moment to feel this marvelous gift steadily thumping in my chest. It is alive and healthy and has created in me a new appreciation for life.

More than that, though, I am always aware that this heart is not mine. It belongs to the kind of person all of us should aspire to be. Moreover, he came from the kind of people all of us should aspire to be. Maybe it is my imagination but since receiving my new heart, I feel a serenity I have never before felt. I feel a concern for others far greater than I thought possible. I feel a responsibility to all organ donors and their families to do what I can to honor their loved ones by committing the rest of my life to promoting organ donation.

I was very sick prior to my transplant. I could no longer get around very well because my heart just could not pump efficiently enough. I knew I was dying and as a 68 year-old man with COPD and B positive blood, I did not think a transplant was in the cards. But it was. As a result, I believe that God saved me for a reason and that reason was to promote organ donation to honor you and your loved one.

I appreciate the simple things now, much more than before. I look forward every morning to seeing my loving wife and caregiver, Robin. Staying in contact with family and friends has become more important than ever before. I enjoy sitting in our sunroom watching the sunrise and sunset. Each day gives me a new thrill because each day is a gift from you and from God.

I don’t know if we will ever meet and although I am likely to be at a loss for words, I would like to thank you personally. You gave me life, you gave me peace and you gave me a profound sense of gratitude and understanding. I am a new person and I hope that in your grief it helps to know that a part of your loved one is alive and that with his help I am trying to live my life in a way that would make you proud.

God bless

Bob, Robin and family

Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s over 4,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at bob@baronson.org. And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love. You can register to be a donor at http://www.donatelife.net 

About Bob Aronson

Bob Aronson is a former journalist, a Minnesota Governor's Press Secretary and talk show host. For nearly a quarter of a century, he led the Aronson Partnership, a Minnesota-based communications consultancy that prepared corporate and government executives for crisis situations, regulatory testimony, media interviews and Presentations. Among his clients were all three U.S. Mayo Clinic locations, 3M, general Mills, CH2M Hill, the U.S. Department of Energy and scores more. In 2007 bob had a heart transplant after suffering from idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy for 12 years. Shortly after he got his new heart he founded the now 4,300 member Facebook support group, Organ Transplant Initiative. At the same time, he established the Bob's Newheart blog where he has posted nearly 300 columns on organ donation, transplantation and other health related issues. The Viewpoint blog was started in late 2016 and bears the name of the Radio Talk show Bob did from 1966 until 1974, when he resigned to become Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich first Press secretary. Bob and his artist wife Robin, live in Jacksonville, Florida with their two dogs, Reilly and Ziggy. Bob is also a woodworker and makes all of the furnishings for Robin's art festival booth. He also makes one of a kind jewelry or "memories" boxes that he donates to select transplant patients, caregivers, donor families and others who have somehow contributed to making life easier for the ill, the elderly and the less fortunate. Bob is in the final stages of editing two full-length novels that will be available on Kindle when ready for release sometime in early 2017. One is a sci fi novel about an amazing discovery near Roswell, New Mexico and you will be surprised to find it has nothing to do with the Roswell story everyone knows. It features a woman scientist who investigates impact craters for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Dr. Rita Sylvester and her female student intern. The other book is a political thriller that introduces a new hero to the genre, Fargo Dennison.

Posted on November 14, 2012, in Communication and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I am not a heart transplant recipient but I am a deep believer in writing thank you’s. This samiple letter is one of the most touching pieces of writing I have ever read. There is so much to learn of the true values in life from reading such as this. I am Bob Aronson’s cousin Priscilla.


  2. robert lsdd denison

    What if you can’t find them?


    • By yourself you probably can’t find them but if you work through your transplant coordinator they can make arrangements for your donor family to receive your letter. There is not guarantee, though, that they will respond.


  3. This made me realize how much I love Christmas, and how prior to transplant, I did not even know it was Christmas.

    I am sending a Christmas card with a note to the Donor family.

    This was very informative and reminds me of how blessed I am.

    Thank you and Merry Christmas,


  1. Pingback: “The Letter” Part 2 — How to Write To Your Donor Family | Bob's NewHeart

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