Checking in with Ron Drake, 10 years after organ transplant - Los Angeles Local News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

Checking in with Ron Drake, 10 years after lifesaving organ transplant

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10 years ago tonight, a Chandler man was given a second chance at life. Dying of liver cancer -- the only thing that could save him was a transplant. But for that to happen, someone else would have to die.

Someone's tragedy would give life to another. We catch up with transplant recipient Ron Drake, his family and his donor family, ten years after receiving his lifesaving gift.

"If I'm frightened by anything I'm probably frightened for my family and my kids and wife and that's probably what I'm frightened for," Drake told us in 2003.

When we first met Ron Drake in 2003, he looked deceivingly healthy. But his liver, ravaged by Hepatitis C, had turned cancerous.

For 6 months, Ron languished at the top of the transplant list waiting. But time was running out.

"What's going to happen and what are we going to do, just the scenario of what's the future and not knowing," said Susan Drake, Ron's wife.

The Drakes, raising two young children Sarah and Matt -- needed a miracle. Ten years ago tonight that miracle arrived.

"A little anticipation but I'm ready, I'm ready."

That night, as Ron and Susan headed to the hospital filled with hope, across town another family grieved.

Denise Harwell's 43-year-old brother Bobby Mickle had just died of a brain hemorrhage. In the midst of their grief, she and the rest of the family made the courageous decision to donate all of Bobby's organs.

Bobby's mother was the last to agree.

"I pray that everybody that receives any of his donations has a good life," she said.

We watched in amazement that night as doctors delicately recovered Bobby's organs. First his heart and lungs, then the pancreas, kidneys and liver. Bobby Mickle's organs saved 5 lives.

In another operating room across town, as a second team of surgeons worked to remove Ron Drake's diseased liver, his gift from Bobby Mickle came through the door. Doctors removed Ron's diseased liver and cut it open to confirm the cancer they'd seen only in cat scans.

As doctors attached Bobby Mickle's pristine liver to Ron Drake, the organ bloomed like a flower. Ron Drake had been saved, thanks to the grace of a man he never met.

"I'm here because of him that's the bottom line that's the bottom line."

10 years later, Ron Drake, now 63, is doing extremely well.

"I've been very fortunate man, when I look at the transplant end I've had no difficulty whatsoever."

He knows he's a lucky man.

"You can't wake up without realizing that you're only here because of somebody else's decision. It's overwhelming… you see something and you think wow I'm still here man."

Before the transplant Ron had one goal. To see his then 11-year-old son Matt graduate from high school. He not only saw that, but this spring matt graduated from college at NAU.

"I just learned not to take anything for granted anymore and really care about the people around you, because you don't know what you've got till it's gone and I didn't lose my dad and that's pretty amazing," said Matt Drake.

"I'm glad we did this, I'm really glad, because that little boy really needed his dad," said Susan Drake.

In the 10 years since her family chose to donate bobby's organs, Denise Harwell says she's never once regretted the decision.

"I knew from the beginning knowing my brother, he was grateful to have done it, I know he was."

Ron Drake has experienced so much life in these past ten years. Sarah's graduation from high school, and later college from U of A. She's now a teacher. And Ron walked her down the aisle on her wedding day.

"They had their father and still have their dad and that's pretty awesome you know."

And soon another milestone. Sarah's expecting a baby in December. Ron is about to become a grandfather. Bobby Mickle's gift made all this possible.

"The experiences we've had since we wouldn't have had without his sacrifice. It's amazing because he lives on, he lives on every day that we're here to celebrate," said Sarah Drake.

"If it all ended tomorrow John, I've had ten more years on the planet and ten more years has let me see those milestones," said Ron.

Though he's healthy now, doctors can't guarantee how long Ron Drake might live. And he's ok with that.

"I guess I'm still afraid of dying but I'm just not as freaked out about it. I think because there's, because you've gotten this extra opportunity right, to stay on the planet, to watch your kids grow, to be with my family. It's extra time so you wouldn't have had it in the first place right so now that you have it, it falls in that vein."

Bud Harwell still misses his brother in-law. But he says Ron Drake is a living memorial to Bobby.

"It's fantastic that he's lived ten years and now I hope he lives another 10, 20 or 30 - because as long as he's alive, Bobby's alive, that's my opinion and that makes me feel wonderful inside," said Bud Harwell.

More than 2,400 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in Arizona. If you want to register to become an organ donor or learn more, go to:

Wednesday night, live chat with @donatelifeAZ using hashtag #fox10saveslives or #foxsaveslives on Twitter!

Story Archive

Meet Ron Drake: Meet Ron Drake, waiting for a lifesaving liver transplant. We first introduced him to you in 2003. Video:

Ron Drake gets transplant: Three months after you first met Ron Drake, he gets his lifesaving transplant. Rarely have TV cameras been allowed inside the operating room. We take you on this amazing journey. Plus, we also talked to the donor family about their unselfish decision. Video:

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