This is Her Story of Peace, Love, and Strength

What would you say?……. What would you say to the mother and father of a child that saved your daughter’s life??  No. What would you say to the mother or father of a child that DIED SAVING your child’s life?? On top of that, knowing that the child HAD TO die in order to save yours? What would you say?

Since the day I learned the identity of Mia’s heart donor, I have been unable to discuss it, and unable to even THINK about it……without crying. The day I watched the video of the accident that gave my daughter ‘life’, and a second chance, I was in tears, hysterical, sobbing uncontrollably in my front room, wallowing uncontrollably in a mixture of sorrow- for the loss of this child; and profound, indescribable gratitude for the Life and second chance of mine.  I was transported to the moment I saw my daughter laying on the hospital bed, not breathing, being shocked and given cpr, and then thinking she had died when they couldn’t get her heart to start again. Fast forward to the day, 7 days later, that we were told she was going to get a new heart. Hope! in the face of death and despair, when the light was beginning to fade and the door was shutting on our Mia’s life.  I thought I would feel nothing but complete gratitude toward the donor and his/her family once I’d found out who it was.  But, the reality left me almost unable to even speak about it, which certainly prevented me from conveying my feelings of gratitude to these people.   As of today,….. I haven’t. But, now, I think I can.  And I am trying.

But, first, let me try to explain…. I had been praying and meditating for this “Gift”. Whether you understand this or not, and I did not, but my entire body and mind was flooded with so many emotions. I couldn’t separate them all.  I had a strange but overwhelming sense of guilt,  I felt responsible for his death! I had prayed for a heart! And Mia had been given one!….. I worried that I had somehow ‘made’ this happen. And as I watched the news video clip reporting his death, I knew immediately that no matter how strong my feelings of gratitude, I would never be able to take away or reverse the pain and loss being felt by his grieving parents and family. I began to have a visceral reaction as I watched the video.  I kept thinking of this beautiful boy named Michael, who died, so that my daughter might live.

As a young boy, I would imagine what it would be like to give my life to save another’s? You see, growing up in the late Sixties, early Seventies, and having a Viet-Nam Vet father, I was fascinated with the sacrifices that so many good and noble young men and women made in that war, and that of many of my father’s friends.  As a child, I asked my Dad about it often.  He didn’t like talking about it much, and when he did, he spoke of the character of the young men he’d served with. And the sacrifices that they had made……. in the name of a Greater Purpose, that of protecting our Country, the Principle’s of Freedom and America, and each other.  So, even though he didn’t glorify war and death or killing, I was impressed with the willingness of these great men to sacrifice their lives to save those of others.  And so, I was fascinated with playing ‘war’ with my friends in the field by our house. I would day-dream, and fantasized about ‘giving the ultimate sacrifice’ by throwing myself on a handgrenade with just enough time for me to make eye contact with my best friend, and I’d smile, ‘saying’ that it was the greatest gift I could imagine. To give my life to save that of my best friends. ;-).

But what of saving the life of a complete stranger??

Well?… that sort of thing only happens in Hollywood.  But in real life, sometimes it happens something like this:

A seven year old boy in North Dakota goes to school one day in May. At school, they have some presentation or discussion about organ donation.  And for some reason, this boy is moved. He ‘gets it’. He comes home and tells his Mom and Dad, “Mom? I wanna be an organ donor.”  Although it’s a strange request from a 7 year old boy, the Mom says something like, “Well, when you’re 16 years old and you get your driver’s license, sure you can sign up.”, and she feels proud that her son would already be thinking of such a thing.  Little would she know that her sweet, innocent, beautiful, and precious son would have his chance two days later.

There was no hand grenade. He didn’t know my daughter. There were no sweet moments of ‘Goodbye’, with a look in his eye that says, “I love you”……. Instead, ‘Mikey’, of Fargo, North Dakota, became an Angel on June 5, 2011, when he gave his heart to my dying daughter.   The ‘grenade’ was a truck. Two days earlier, on June 3, 2011, the truck took his life in a blink of an eye as he crossed the street on his way home from a play-date at a friends house.  He never saw it coming. No one did. He was left with no brain activity…… But miraculously, his other vital internal organs were spared. The gifts of Life. He gave his other organs, including his liver, his kidneys, and many more. Mikey saved the lives of over 6 people that day.

And so, on the day I learned of Mikey, I was humbled. Again. Outside of the death of my child, I NEVER expected or thought I could feel so much sorrow?!  I was sincerely left incapacitated. Thank God a good friend stopped by to bring something to Mia…… the same sweet friend who visited Mia the second day she was in the hospital, and who, being a doctor herself, knew just how to make Mia and the rest of us feel better. (In the hopsital, she came right in and immediately began painting Mia’s toe-nails! And the legend of Mia’s finger and toenail polish began!  But she comforted Mia and us then, only hours after Mia had been placed on ecmo/heart and lung bypass; and here she was again!….. and I melted in front of her.) She held me as I sobbed, and let me explain what I had just learned…….. Thank you, Angie. And Stef. I’m sorry you had to see me so, but was so thankful that you were there to comfort my aching heart and soul.

I can not explain this to you all….. and the tears, they run down my face even now, trying to understand it fully myself!!…. and all I can say is that I can not imagine what Mikey’s parents and sisters and brother went through?!! Their pain!! Their loss!!…… losing their child, their brother….. so young. So fast. No warning. And I think my tears are really an expression of my overwhelming gratitude for the Miracle that my daughter still lives! Of my desire to say and demonstrate my feelings to Mikey’s family. I now realize that Mikey is smiling. I think he see’s Mia, and the other people he helped, and he feels good. At least, I know he feels no pain.

I cannot give you back your son. I cannot imagine your pain. But I can say Thank You. And I can try to acknowledge the Gift that your son has given to me, my family, our friends and community, and to Mia herself.  We want you and your family, your friends, and your community to know, that we give Thanks every night, and every day.  And we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives.  There is not a single day that goes by that I do not mention his name, see his face in my mind, and I give thanks for his life.  And for you all. Michael is our hero. You all are. His whole family. Bless you, his mother, father, family and friends. We mourn with you for your loss, and dedicate our lives to making his life continue to have purpose and meaning in the body of our daughter.  And I know you’d be proud.  Mia is a sweet, kind, and gentle soul.  She truly is a good person….. and I believe she must have been worthy of his Gift. I can tell you that she appreciates every day she has now. Thanks to your son, and to you, and the amazing doctors and nurses who made it all happen.

Finally, to our community, family, and friends……. Please, in your comments, feel free to express your thoughts and gratitude toward Mikey’s family, friends, and community, who are still and forever feeling the pain of his passing. To his sisters, and his little brother, and his parents: Dear Bobbi and Jeff, may the Love and Support that we have received over the last six months be felt and directed toward you and yours. We are forever grateful.

His name was Michael John Allen Dean Fetzer. He was 7. His mother says he was named after some very special people. He certainly lived up to his name. Oh, he liked apple pie. 🙂

To learn more and to see the news clip about Mikey, you can follow the following link:



Comments on: "An Open Letter, to the Parents, Family, and Friends of Mia's Donor, and All of You" (20)

  1. Courtney fetzer said:

    Dear Tom,

    This is Mikey’s oldest sister. I am not the best when it comes to cry about something like this. I think the last time I cried about my brother was earlier this summer. I was a strong kid for my younger siblings and for my parents. After reading this all I could think about was ” I want to my brother back ” and I know what my brother did was an amazing gift but when you lose someone you love so much it hurts to believe you’ll never see them again until you pass. My brohter was named after my dads brother who died at 12. Actually my siblings and I (expect for Annie) are named after a family memeber or good friend who have pasted away. I just wanted to let you know that I never well forget what my brother did for Mia. And I love talking to Mia and getting to know her. I just wish i would have had more time with my brother. I miss him so much and would love for him to come back and Mia to be total Healthy, but live doesnt work that way.

    Love Mikey’s oldest sister Courtney.

  2. to the fetzers: our deep sympathies on the loss of your mikey. what a precious, wonderful boy. it is simply amazing and unbelievable the way life travels. in this small corner, mikey dies, mia lives, and the circle goes round and round. we hope you’re getting on okay, day by day …

    diane, brian, aryana (7 1/2) and emilio (2 1/2)

  3. Robbie & Elliott said:

    To THEM Brickeys…thank you for sharing. How does one smile and cry at the same time; feel happiness & profound sorrow?!. Thank you for your articulation of all the jumbled feelings/thoughts.

    To Mikey’s parents…I’m sure you are proud & heartbroken at the same time. May you find some peace in moving forward. As a Brickey neighbor I can attest to the very real gratitude and continuing care of Mia/Mikey’s heart.

  4. Halle Lamble said:

    Dear Bobbi and Jeff

    When I read this entry I just cried and cried for the loss of your dear child Mikey. I am so so sorry for you and your family. In such dreadful circumstances I can imagine you wanting to hold your son and never let go – what you have done is truly courageous and beyond generous. I’m so grateful to know about you and your son so that I can always remember you and Mikey and be grateful to you all for what you have done for Mia and others. From the bottom of my heart thank you. Halle

  5. Dear Fetzer Family,

    There are no words to explain the varied and fluctuating range of emotions that we have experienced since healthy Mia mysteriously fell ill last May.

    More importantly, there are no words to adequately express the gratitude that so many feel for the simple, and yet very complicated, fact that Mia is alive and healing. As her friends, we have been given an enormous blessing due to your enormous loss, and that brings another breadth of varied and fluctuating emotions.

    Please know that there are so many people, around the world, who acknowledge the incredible gift that Mikey gave so that Mia could live. Please know that his heart has been placed in the care of a wonderful, spunky, athletic, loving and amazing 12 year old girl who will make a difference in this world.

    You are all in our prayers, and we will never forget your son.

  6. Allison Leishman said:

    To the dear parents of Mikey,

    Thank you so much for your truly amazing gift to our sweet little Mia!

    My heart aches for your loss, I hope that you can find some comfort knowing that his spirit lives on. Mikey will not be forgotten.


  7. Stephanie Nix-Wille said:

    As a parent I can sincerely empathize with the pain of losing a child. Mia is part of my family and like everyone reading this, I’m all choked up. Michael was a wonderful, giving miracle. Amazing. I’m overwhelmed. Thank you.

  8. Thank you for such a beautiful articulation of the incredible joy and sadness that the family of an organ recipient goes through after such an amazing gift is provided to a loved one. I do not cry often, but I cried so hard for several days whenever I thought of the poor family in Georgia mourning the death of a 30-something year old family member while we were celebrating the incredible joy of a second chance at life, all on a beautiful Thanksgiving weekend in 2006. My DH wanted to wait to write to the donor family until he had an amazing story of his second life after the transplant, but he complications after 6 months then unexpectedly passed away 16 months after the transplant. So, the letter was never written. I still think about writing the donor’s family to tell them all of the wonderful things he experienced in those 16 months because they were 16 month he wouldn’t have had without their generosity. I just wish our story could have had a better ending.

    Hugs to Michael’s family as well as yours as you continue on your journey!

  9. What an eloquent and heartfelt message of gratitude. It is heart wrenching yet inspirational.

    Dear Bobbi and Jeff,

    My heart aches for your loss. Your gift and Mikey’s gift is an amazing one! Thank you for your thoughtful generosity at an unimaginable moment. I am sure your kindness will inspire many. It inspires me!
    Love and peace to you all

  10. Dear Fetzer family,

    Michael was an amazing little boy with a giving heart that will go on giving through Mia. Thank you for instilling those values in him. May God hold and keep you through your grief.


  11. Bobbi and Jeff ,

    I am so sorry you have lost your beautiful boy. It is hard to find the words for the incredible gift you have given. Your generosity and compassion are so courageous. I thought of Mia’s donor everyday and thanked the universe for helping her. Now I get to thank you! I especially thank you when I hear Mia laugh! Much Love to you and your family.

  12. hilary silberman said:

    Tom thank you for sharing this with all of us and for being willing and able to so articulately share these intimate and difficult emotional experiences. I remember wrestling with these thoughts when I read that Mia needed a new heart and that you found one. One family’s joy and hope, another’s pain and sorrow. Mia and your family have been in my heart and on my mind since I first learned of her situation. It was with great joy, wonder and melancholy that I listened to her speak over the phone via loudspeaker at RH convocation the first day of school. I stood motionless with tears streaming down my face as so many others did. It was a moving experience that I will never forget. Her words were so positive, thankful and uplifting. Her spirit so strong. She is an amazing girl.

    To Mikey’s family: in your most tragic moment of grief and sorrow you made a decision that many parents might not be able to make. You are indeed heroes, as is Mikey. His spirit will live on in all those lives he saved and all those they touch. I am so sorry for your loss. He sounds like he was a wonderful boy who cared about others. A wonderful boy with a big heart. Thank you for renewing my faith in others.

  13. Paige Hill said:

    I am not good with words, especially when I am crying my eyes out, but Mikey, you are a hero. You gave the most precious gift so that others may have a chance to live. God Bless you and your family. Much love, Paige Hill

  14. My tears did not come until i saw the picture of an adorable, happy little boy. I feel so much grief for the loss of his life, and so profoundly overwhelmed to know that his heart is now working in Mia’s body. And this is why she is alive today.

    How is it that you can feel heartbroken and gratitude at the exact same time…but that’s how it feels. And I am just Tom’s dental patient.

    We are all connected, sometimes in ways never imagined.

    Love to Michael’s family and Love to Mia’s family.

  15. Mia has been in my prayers since Dr. Roger Russell first posted about her on his Facebook page. Today, Roger posted again about your letter, and his posting made me catch my breath. Then, your letter made me cry. As the sister of an organ donor, I would like to tell Mia’s family that for our family, the ability to donate our loved one’s vital, healthy organs was a GIFT! A small part of him lived on, in the midst of incredible loss. We never were in contact with the families of those who received our Joe’s organs– which in many ways was good as we didn’t want to make any sort of judgment about how they went on living their lives, or feel that maybe they didn’t truly recognize how special a person it was who had given them the “gift of life”. Your letter brings me comfort, because no one could have expressed more clearly all of the conflicted emotions surrounding organ donations… and I hope that those recipients of my brother’s organs realize that we wish only the very best for them, that we are grateful that his organs “worked” (and are very afraid to hear differently about that), and that we encourage every family to make the decision to donate if they can. For those awaiting an organ donation, I would only say… pray for the families who are inevitably going to lose a loved one too soon, that they can understand that death can bring life, too. We are a part of a Whole, and to believe our prayers would ever be answered to someone else’s detriment cannot be the way a loving God answers prayers (so please, release any feelings of guilt). All great religions teach that God is love, and in showing love to each other, we are our best selves. Recipients allow families of donors to truly honor and show respect for the lost loved ones, too. Goodbye, dear Mikey– your spirit and your life will not be forgotten…. and blessings to Mia, who now has another chance to live a fruitful life. And goodbye to my sweet brother, who is never far from me after all.

  16. wow……reading about Mikey makes it all more “real” somehow. It was hard to hear his story. I could also feel the guilt and sorrow so strongly, it was actually almost hard to read. Thank you for letting us hear about Mikey, since we haven’t heard from Abby’s donor yet, it allowed me to experience some of the emotions that I will have if and when we do hear. How do you thank someone for the gift of life?? I don’t know, but I do know that there aren’t words to express that amount of gratitude, maybe it’s just a feeling you can convey, and you’ve done that. We are so grateful you are now in our lives, tied together in this odd, but amazing way!

  17. Toni Lock said:

    To the family, friends of Michael.

    I just read Dr. Brickey’s heartfelt and soulful entry of how he and his family’s desire to let you know how grateful they are to you and will forever be..

    Just reading this, and thinking of both families gives me so much peace/hope in our human race. Thanks to all of you for sharing, with the rest of us, your insights, your fears, your beliefs, your strength, and most of all your gratitude for ALL THAT IS.

    For in reality, that’s really all there is, and you all remind me that there are no coincidences. Everything does happen for a reason. Even if at the time we do not know it, it does unveil itself to us eventually.

    With gratitude to all of you and the light you all share with all of us.

  18. I have followed MIa’s story since learning about her from a good friend and relative of Mia’s, Roger Russell. My daughter was born with a broken heart…a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. We thought the two open heart surgeries she has already endured were enough and that her heart was “fixed.” Two weeks ago at a routine heart appointment, we found out that our daughter was in heart failure. Her heart left ventricle had been slowly dying and we had no idea. We are now in the process of listing her for a new heart. I have struggled immensely with my prayers for a heart…how can I pray for a new heart to save my daughter’s life when I know that someone else will have to go through agonizing grief in order for that to happen? It takes my breath away and leaves me struggling with the same emotions you posted here. Thank you for this post, for some sense of understanding. Thank you for sharing Mia with us, such a beautiful young girl who gives me so much hope that my daughter may have hope of getting a new heart and staying with us. And, THANK YOU to Mikey…I can’t even type his name or think of his family without crying. Their unselfish and beautiful sacrifice is amazing.

  19. I really must stop reading your posts at work. Is it professional to cry openly in front of your computer at the office?! You express so beautifully your mix of emotions Tom.

    To Michael’s family: I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Thank you for raising such a remarkable young boy. And thank you for helping such a remarkable young girl.

  20. “Thank you” might not seem like enough to say but it is everything. My parents, myself, & my siblings would love to hear from any of the men who received my brother’s heart, kidneys, & corneas last year. I wait for the day. It makes me happy to know that lives are being lived because of JJ. I’m proud of him & I’m sure Michael’s parents feel the same.

    It gives me chills how this story all seems meant to be. Thank you to Michael & his parents. What a selfless act of love.

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