ST. LOUIS — Their son was only 15 years old when he was shot in the chest in his high school parking lot.
It was an unintentional shooting in Benton, Missouri, after a classmate brought a gun to school.
The victim was Kaden Robert, a baseball and football player whose father described him as someone who lived life to the fullest.
“He just liked to be around people. He had a smile and a laugh that would draw you in. He just enjoyed life,” said Aaron Robert.
Four months before Kaden was killed, his mother, a nurse, talked to him about organ donation. Kaden decided he wanted to register as an organ donor.
Little did they know, that conversation would be brought up again in the ICU in June of 2014.
It was an ICU his mother knew well, she worked at the hospital where her son was taken and diagnosed with brain death.
“Some of the last moments we had together was in the ICU at St. Francis hospital. One of my colleagues said ‘You get up in that bed and lay with him,’ so I got up in that bed and I laid on him. With the ventilator, because he was on artificial respiration, it was kind of muffled and that was one of the last times I heard his heart,” said Kaden’s mom, Rhonda Robert.
The Roberts chose to donate Kaden’s organs. They put his body on a plane to St. Louis so surgeons could procure his pancreas, kidneys, liver and heart.
“[We were] letting him know that he was about to do the most important thing in his life and that was to go and save some more lives and that’s exactly what we whispered to him as he left,” Rhonda said.
Several months later, Kaden’s parents learned their son had saved five lives.
Years went by as Rhonda and Aaron grieved for their son. But after five years, a phone call would give them a chance to hear their sons’ heartbeat again.
Lori McGuckin, a woman living in St. Charles, had received Kaden’s heart.
The heart transplant allowed her to become a grandmother when doctors said she may not live to see her grandson's birth. Now, she wanted to meet Kaden’s parents and let them listen to their son's heartbeat in her chest and say thank you for saving her life.
“At 15, to want to be an organ donor, he sounds like he was such a remarkable young man,” Lori said.
On Oct. 12, Kaden’s parents and Lori met for the first time. Kaden’s mother and Lori immediately embraced and both started crying.
“When I look at [Lori], I see two people now, I see him,” said Rhonda.
Rhonda, being a nurse, brought her own stethoscope to the meeting and pressed it against Lori’s chest.
Through tears, Rhonda said, “It was like he came home, briefly.”
Kaden’s dad and his younger sister, Claire, also listened to the heartbeat.
“He enjoyed helping people and for him to pass on a gift like this to someone would be very important to him. There’s not a doubt in my mind,” said Aaron Robert.
The Roberts plan to meet more of Kaden’s organ recipients including an 8-year-old St. Louis girl who received his liver. In total, Kaden saved five lives with his lifesaving gift. You can read the letter sent to Kaden’s parents about the organ recipient here.
To register to be an organ donor, visit sayyesgivelife.org.