A Legacy of Kindness

Aolani was a vibrant, outgoing, very active 10-year-old. She loved participating in activities: every single one she heard of, she wanted to attend. At school, she was on the staff of the school newspaper. She enjoyed being a reporter as she talked with students and teachers about school events and reporting on them. Part of her duties included announcing events and the daily birthdays on the in-school network watched on class monitors.


While she would watch some TV and cartoons, Aolani like doing things with her hands, much preferring arts and crafts, especially bracelets, over toys. This hands-on approach was evident in how she viewed the world around her; she kept a notebook for sketching out ideas for helpful inventions to make when she grew up.

Helping others was a frequent theme of her inventions and in her actions with her friends and family as Aolani was very kind and sentimental. This came out during a conversation with her mother, Rosalba, after Rosalba had renewed her driver’s license. The subject of organ, tissue, and eye donation was discussed. When Mom explained what donation meant, Aolani was unsure. But, as Rosalba continued talking about how other people’s lives could be saved or helped through donation Aolani immediately changed her mind.

Little did they know how soon Aolani would become a donor. Ten months later Aolani was killed in an automobile accident. Her mother, brothers, and sister all agreed donation was the right thing to do in keeping with Aolani’s spirit. They donated Aolani’s corneas. A 32-year-old man received one cornea while a 6-week-old baby girl the other.

Zoe was born 33 days prior to Aolani’s death. When she was born one of her corneas was very cloudy. Zoe was seen by a specialist who diagnosed her with Peters anomaly, a rare congenital defect of the eye causing blindness. The specialist recommended a transplant to restore sight and prevent further ocular issues from developing.

Three days after the baby’s transplant, Nia, her mother, posted on Transplant Services Center’s Facebook page: “Not a recipient but my month and a half old daughter is and my appreciation is more than I'll ever be able to explain. I'll always want to be able to hug the donor and family of the donor for the beautiful gift of sight that was given to my daughter! My heart is forever humbled and my baby is eternally happy.”

Several weeks after the donation, Transplant Services Center received a call from the donor’s mother asking about meeting the recipients. Rosalba was given information on anonymously writing the recipients and the eventual process of meeting. Soon both families had exchanged letters.

On Saturday, April 15, at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, the two families were able to meet each other. Zoe went to Rosalba and remained in Rosalba’s arms for most of the event. After the two families had a chance to speak privately, they attended the 15th annual “Garden of Life Spring Celebration Day” which honors donor families and recognizes recipients. During the program, both families shared their story.

As she reflects upon Aolani’s death, Rosalba says, “The only thing I want people to know is even though she died, her death was not in vain. Due to her loss, she was able to change the lives of two other people and their families. I know this is what she would have wanted. I also want others to know that when they have a loss, like mine, think how your loss can change other people's lives. You don't know how that person and their family could feel when they get donated the organs or tissues they need. I'm glad my daughter could make it possible for a little girl to be able to see.”

Rosalba and Zoe