A Carthage, Missouri, man isn’t even 30 and he has already faced three possible fatal diagnoses. Twice, organ donors saved Will Hawkins’ life. Now, he is inspiring others with his fighting spirit.

Will was born with congenital heart defects. At the age of 10, he received a heart transplant.

His mother, Barbara Rodrigues, will never forget the sacrifice of the little girl who passed away and the family that donated her organs.

“He was so young but he was so sick. It was a relief to know he had a second chance at life,” she said.

Will suffered developmental delays from the heart defects, but he persevered. But in his teens, disease struck again. Will had cancer. It was a type of lymphoma and he underwent chemotherapy.

Will beat the cancer and during his teenage years found the passion that would keep him fighting. Will started volunteering as the manager of the Carthage High School freshman baseball team. 

“It’s my life,” Will said.

Coaches and players say Will often delivers pep talks in the dugout during games.

“He talks about it, he breathes it, he lives it. There have been times I'm like, who is he talking to? And, he's giving these pretend speeches of what he's going to say to the kids,” Will’s mother, Barbara, said.

Eleven years later, at the age of 27, Will is still at every practice and every game encouraging the 9th grade athletes.

“Will never gives up. Everything he's been through in his life and he never gives up and he communicates that to the team,” said Will’s father, Bill Hawkins.

Then, this past summer, Will’s life was threatened again. He went into kidney failure. After months on dialysis, testing revealed Will’s mother was a perfect donor match. 

But, Will would have to undergo the surgery far from his beloved baseball team. Doctors scheduled the surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital which is a four-hour drive from his hometown of Carthage. The transplant was going to take place in mid-April, which is the beginning of the Carthage Tigers baseball season.

That’s when the baseball players knew it was their turn to give Will a pep talk.

Video texts started pouring in for Will, in his St. Louis hospital room. Players promising to win the first game for Will. They also recorded themselves saying they were praying for his recovery.

The entire team even gathered to FaceTime Will a few days after the surgery.

“They treat me like brother, every single one of them,” Will said.

After a successful surgery, Will is now on the road to recovery. He plans on continuing to turn his lifetime of suffering into inspiration for others.

“To know your son means so much and is such an inspiration to an organization like the Carthage Tigers year after year, warms your heart and makes you feel good,” said Will’s dad.


April is Donate Life Month. We'd love you to join 5 On Your Side at Mid-America Transplant’s "Celebrate Life" walk on April 29th at Creve Coeur Lake Park.  Anne Allred is the emcee and participating in the 5k. For more information go to midamericatransplant.org.