Rodney DeBaun from Grand Prairie, Texas, was a real estate developer and athlete in perfect health. In June 1993, he went to the doctor because he noticed his stamina was diminishing and thought he had the flu. However, Rodney was told that his heart was severely and permanently damaged, that he only had a short time to live and that he needed a transplant. So in August of that year, he went on the transplant list. In October 1993, Rodney, who was 36, received a lifesaving heart transplant. His donor was 22-year-old Air Force Second Lieutenant David Nicklas.
David Nicklas was valedictorian of his 1989 Graford High School class. In June 1993, he graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant assigned to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. In October 1993, David’s vehicle was stolen on a Friday; he got a motorcycle on Saturday and was involved in a tragic accident on Sunday, resulting in David being placed on life support.
About 6 weeks before David’s accident, David’s grandfather, W. H. “Lucky” Bramlett, had been introduced to Rodney in a brief meeting by a mutual friend, Ken Johnson. The night the family was asked to decide to consider donating David’s organs, Lucky was awoken from a deep sleep when he felt as if something physically jerked him up into a sitting position and the name “Rodney” flashed through his mind. The Nicklas family decided to donate David’s organs, but only if his heart could go to Rodney. They were told it was unheard of for a donor family to specify a direct donation recipient, especially to someone not a family member. However, the family held fast to their decision.
When Rodney’s doctor found out about the donation, he cautioned Rodney not to get too excited as the heart would more than likely not be a match. Surprisingly, David’s heart turned out to be a 100% match. Rodney received his gift of life from David on October 20, 1993, and was released just 9 days after his transplant! After meeting his donor’s family at Thanksgiving in 1994, Rodney and his wife, Isibelle, created the David Nicklas Organ Donor Awareness Foundation in memory of David. Since then, the two families have become one. In 1996 a year after the foundation’s creation honoring her brother, Rebecca Nicklas-Kelley, began working with the foundation, making it unique to be operated by both recipient and donor families.
Beginning in 2004, The Foundation began offering rent-free housing to transplant patients who live too far from a transplant center. We have helped nearly 100 families from 15 states, with transplant patients as young as 4 months old and up to 72 years of age. The organ transplants have included hearts, kidneys, lungs, double lungs, and livers. We proudly provide no-cost air transport to wounded military veterans when possible.
The mission of The Nicklas Foundation is to promote organ donor awareness and provide fully furnished rent-free housing for transplant patients who live too far from a transplant center. When his schedule allows, Rodney will also air transport disabled military veterans at no cost within a 2-hour radius of the Grand Prairie Municipal Airport. Please visit www.NicklasFoundation.org to learn more about the David Nicklas Organ Donor Awareness Foundation.