Donor hero

Kameron's generosity saves Deirdre's life

Deirdre Croal holding photo of donor Kameron Arnlund
Deirdre Croal holding photo of donor Kameron Arnlund

When Deirdre Croal was first diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in the mid-1970s at age 4, doctors told her parents she probably wouldn’t live for more than a few years.

By the age of 7, she had experienced her first hospitalization, and throughout her childhood, she was in and out of the hospital while her friends progressed through the normal milestones of growing up.

Still, Deirdre persisted. “My parents encouraged me to do what I wanted to do at every level,” she said.

That included graduating from nursing school. Even though she endured multiple hospitalizations, she never missed a clinical rotation, and even had her nurses supervise examinations for her while she was in her hospital bed.

Eventually, however, Deirdre’s disease caught up with her. After just two and a half years of working as a nurse, she was forced to quit because she was having too many challenges with her breathing. “I pretty much had no life other than lung therapies and work,” she said. “So, it was really hard when I was told that I couldn’t work anymore.”

Deirdre got on the wait list for a double lung transplant in February 2013, and in October of that same year, she received the gift of life. Though she struggled a lot during the first year after the transplant, eventually she stabilized enough to write a letter to her donor’s family. “I just wanted to let them know that without their gift, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.

A life cut short

In the meantime, Becky Drechsler was grieving deeply. Her 17-year-old daughter, Kameron Arnlund, had taken her own life just a few days before Deirdre received her transplant. “She was very funny and active,” said Becky of her daughter. “She was the life of the party, always outgoing. She never appeared to be down.”

Because Kameron had a brother with special needs, the family talked often about what they would want if they were to pass away. Kameron wanted to be an organ donor, so when doctors told Becky her daughter was brain dead, the devastated mother knew her daughter would want to save other people’s lives.

Kameron was able to donate her pancreas, kidneys, liver, and lungs, which matched to Deirdre. But, at that time, Becky was not ready to develop any sort of relationship with the people who had received her daughter’s organs. “I did not want to know anything about them,” she said.

Becky had received Deirdre’s thank-you note but put the thought of connecting with her out of her mind until her son with special needs, Alex, became ill with lung failure. Then she started thinking about what would happen if he needed a lung transplant. She wrote a letter to Deirdre in July 2016, and the two met for the first time that fall.

“I heard Kameron’s lungs in her chest that day,” said Becky. “When I met Deirdre, things made a little more sense to me. We immediately had a connection. I’d never had anything like that.”

From that point on, the two women kept in contact. While Deirdre’s lungs worked well, she had health issues with the rest of her body, and she needed a kidney transplant in 2021. Deirdre’s family kept Becky and her family in the loop about how she was doing. “We’re basically like family now,” said Becky.

For her part, Deirdre is incredibly grateful for both her gifts of life—the lungs and the kidney—and wants to share with others how a tragedy can have a positive impact on the world. “I’m very thankful for the decision that Becky made when she supported Kameron’s decision to be an organ donor,” she said.