As a paramedic, Kyle Fisher saved many lives. As an organ donor, he saved six more.
Vanderbilt staff pays tribute to his heroism with Honor WalkFebruary 18, 2019
Just after midnight on Feb. 9, a solemn gathering of medical personnel in Vanderbilt’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit paid tribute to Kyle Fisher and his decision to be an organ donor with an Honor Walk. Photo by Matt Batcheldor
Kyle Fisher, a paramedic who saved lives for a living, continues to save lives even after his death.
Fisher, 28, completed his final act of valor when he donated his heart, liver, kidneys, lungs and tissue on Feb. 9, saving six lives in the process. Just after midnight that morning, dozens of medical personnel lined the hallways of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit in a silent memorial as Fisher’s hospital bed was moved from his patient room to the operating room where he would donate his organs.
An Honor Walk is a new, voluntary way for medical personnel to honor donor families for their loved one’s heroic last act.
The ceremony, called an Honor Walk, is a new, voluntary way for medical personnel to honor donor families for their loved one’s heroic last act. The solemn ceremony occurs only with the permission of the patient’s family.
Fisher, who was suffering from severe gastrointestinal issues, went into cardiac arrest shortly after emergency personnel responded on Feb. 4 to his fianceé’s home in rural Clay County, Tennessee, about two hours northeast of Nashville. Fisher was given CPR for 28 minutes during his transport to Cumberland River Hospital in Celina, where he was stabilized. He then was transported to Vanderbilt.
Fisher, a paramedic at American Medical Response (AMR) in Nashville, decided to donate his organs four years earlier when his choice was first indicated on his driver’s license. But his family didn’t know his intentions prior to his medical episode. As Kyle’s condition worsened, his fiancée, Kaylin Oldham, asked Kyle’s mother, Fredia Fisher, about the possibility of contacting Tennessee Donor Services, the federally-designated donor network that facilitates organ and tissue donation in the region.
“I could not make that decision,” Fredia Fisher said. “So I got his wallet out of my purse and his driver’s license had this little heart” — the symbol indicating a registered organ and tissue donor.
“I know 1,000 percent I could not be handling this as well as I am right now if I didn’t know that he was going to save many, many lives by that decision that he’s made,” she said. “And I may not be able to have my baby with me, but a lot of other mamas will be able to keep their babies because of him. And that’s just him. So selfless. So caring. So tenderhearted.”
More than 113,000 people nationwide are waiting for a life-saving transplant, with more than 3,000 of those in Tennessee, said Sharon Pakis, manager of public education and public relations with Tennessee Donor Services.
“One organ donor can save up to eight lives, and one tissue donor can impact 50 or more lives,” Pakis said.
Now Fisher’s family members are also signing up to be donors. “We just felt a sense of peace knowing that he lined all this up for us,” said Fisher’s sister, Kayci Rosenthal.
“I think that in his role in health care he saw how fragile life was. I think he knew how much assistance he could give someone else by such a selfless decision of his own.”
Fisher’s family members worked with Tennessee Donor Services and Vanderbilt medical staff as they moved quickly to find recipients for Fisher’s gifts of life, and the family also agreed that an Honor Walk would be a fitting tribute. “We want to honor Kyle in any shape, form or fashion that we can,” his father, Danny Fisher, said.
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt child life specialists made keepsakes for Fisher’s children, Kasen, 7; Khloe, 3; and Bryar Kyle, with whom Oldham is five months pregnant. They captured Fisher’s handprint and made clay molds of his thumbs, Rosenthal said.
“I think that in his role in health care he saw how fragile life was,” Rosenthal said. “I think he knew how much assistance he could give someone else by such a selfless decision of his own. He never told us he made this decision. But I just truly feel like he always just knew that he wanted to help.”
The family found comfort knowing that Fisher, who loved teaching his colleagues as a field training officer for AMR, was educating the doctors, fellows and attendings at Vanderbilt by their care of him.
“We didn’t have the chance to have a future with Kyle and we accepted that and we know how hard this waiting process has been, but there are families who wait days, months and years because they have hope,” Rosenthal said. “Their loved one is just waiting on one little thing and Kyle is going to be able to give them that thing where they can have a future with their family. And that’s reassuring, too.”
Video of Honor Walk by Matt Batcheldor and Iain Montgomery.
To learn more about becoming an organ and tissue donor, visit donatelifetn.org. Tennessee drivers can also choose to become an organ donor on their driver’s license applications. Donors are encouraged to share their decisions with their families.
Vanderbilt Transplant Center is a leading provider of organ transplantation in the Southeast and Tennessee’s only full-service transplant center. Learn more at https://www.vanderbilthealth.com/transplant/.