April is National Donate Life Month, a month to honor our many donors and donor families. We recently had the chance to talk with donor mom Sierr’a Dixon, whose daughter, Sienna, saved and enhanced lives as a tissue donor. Here is her story.
Sienna Dixon-Newman was born in January 2008. After being diagnosed with severe asthma at only nine months old, she experienced multiple debilitating asthma attacks throughout her childhood. Tragically, Sienna passed away from one of these attacks when she was seven years old. Her parents made the generous and loving decision to allow their daughter to become a tissue donor. Sienna’s donations, including her heart valves and corneas, have saved and enhanced the lives of many others.
My favorite photo of us.
SIENNA’S LEGACY OF LOVE
My daughter, Sienna, was a very happy child. She cared about everybody and always wanted to help no matter what it was, from something as small as helping you carry groceries to helping the homeless.
She loved to read and she loved to draw. She was in a lot of extracurricular activities including karate, taekwondo, gymnastics, Girl Scouts, hip hop, ballet, and dance. She was in a little bit of everything and loved it all; definitely a busy child!
She had asthma her entire life after being diagnosed with severe asthma at only 9 months old. It was uncommon to be diagnosed so young, especially when the lungs were still developing. I had to take her to the doctor many times which resulted in several trips to the hospital. After the second asthma attack, I realized this was serious, so I immersed myself in everything asthma-related. I started taking classes at the hospital and got CPR certified. We were hoping she’d grow out of it, like her father did with his childhood asthma. As the years passed, it did seem like she was starting to get better…which is why we were so shocked when she suddenly passed away that day in 2015.
I had registered myself as a donor way back when I got my permit from the MVA at age 16. Although I didn’t know or give much thought about donation at the time, I knew I absolutely wanted to help others if it ever came down to that decision.
A year before Sienna died, she actually pulled my wallet out of my purse and wanted to know what the heart on my license meant. I told her it means I’m an organ donor and she asked, “what does that mean?” As a parent, that’s hard to explain to a six-year-old! So I explained it the best that I could, and afterwards she said, “oh, then I want to be an organ donor, too.” The next year when she passed and when they told me there’s nothing that we can do, and would we like her to be a donor—it wasn’t even anything we had to think twice about. I immediately said “yes” because of my own beliefs, but it wasn’t until after that I remembered our conversation; that she had already said “yes” too.
She donated skin tissue, her corneas, and her heart valves. A man here in Maryland has one cornea, a woman in another state got her other one, and a little boy has her heart valves. The fact that I know another child got her heart valves which saved his life is pretty much all the solace that I need because it meant another parent didn’t have to bury their child and that’s all that matters to me.
THE JOURNEY FORWARD
Within two years of Sienna passing, I happened to turn on the TV one rough morning and by chance saw an employee from The Living Legacy Foundation (LLF) on FOX45 talking about becoming an ambassador. I recognized The LLF as the organ procurement organization that helped me through the donation process. I decided to attend the ambassador orientation they were promoting on the show and started volunteering right away.
There was a reason I turned on that TV at that moment. I was having such a difficult morning and was missing my baby so much, but I am so grateful for this to have happened. Getting involved in this community has been an amazing thing. The relationships I’ve forged and the people that I’ve met here through The LLF have become like family. Donor recipients, other donor families…you get a new perspective from talking to them and they are now also my closest friends. If it weren’t for Sienna and other donors, I wouldn’t have met these wonderful people. I’m extremely grateful that others said “yes,” too.
My friends, family and I honoring Sienna at The LLF Family Fun Run.
In 2019, I created a foundation in Sienna’s name: the Sienna7 Foundation. Its purpose is to give away two scholarships to let two donor families go to the Transplant Games of America, which is a multi-sport festival competition held every two years. During the Games, transplant recipients and living donors compete in Olympic-style events and sometimes donor families can participate, too.
I knew I wanted to start something in Sienna’s name, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. After I got back from my first Games though, I knew this was it. Getting to the Transplant Games and back can be expensive, so I want to give other donor families the opportunity to travel there and show their support. Sienna wanted to help people, so for me this is the best way to do it.
If I had to give advice to other donor parents who are grieving their loss, I’d want them to know that there is such tremendous support from organizations such as The LLF who will help you through so many of the difficult days and that you should take comfort in knowing your child changed people’s lives. I look at Sienna and all donors as heroes. To save and heal lives like Sienna did, please register as an organ, eye, and tissue donor at www.thellf.org. For more information and to support Sienna7 Foundation, please visit www.sienna7foundation.org.