By Prudence Mathis~
In 1993, at 36 years old, Rodney DeBaun was in perfect health. Noticing his stamina dropping, he went to the doctor thinking he had the flu. Instead, he was told his heart was severely and permanently damaged.
The wait-time for a transplant was 12-18 months, and Rodney was told he might not make it. He would often stay awake until early morning, thinking he would not wake up if he fell asleep. He prayed for a miracle, promising he would “pay it forward” and do what he could to help others.
That same year, David Nicklas graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. David had a ready smile and an always-ready sense of adventure. Sadly, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that would prove fatal.
Six weeks prior to David’s accident, his grandfather met Rodney in a chance meeting. The night the Nicklas family was asked to make a decision about donating David’s organs, David’s grandfather awoke from a deep sleep when he felt as if something physically jerked him up into a sitting position. 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.
When Rodney’s doctor heard the news, he cautioned Rodney the heart was unlikely to be a match. And yet, David’s heart turned out to be a 100% match! Rodney received his gift of life on October 20, 1993, and was released just nine days after his transplant.
After meeting David’s family, Rodney and wife, Isibelle, formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 1995 called The David Nicklas Organ Donor Awareness Foundation. As a pilot who owns planes, Rodney provided no-cost air transport to transplant patients. Since 1996, David’s sister, Rebecca Nicklas-Kelley, began working with the foundation, making it unique to be operated by both transplant recipient and donor families.
Since 2004, The Nicklas Foundation has offered fully furnished, rent-free housing to more than 100 families awaiting an organ transplant who do not live near a transplant center.
To date, we have helped transplant patients from 15 states, from ages three months to 72 years.
The Nicklas Foundation is actively involved in our community. Among others, we support Children First Counseling Center, Crisis Response Ministry, GP DeMolay, GPPD Explorer Post 086, GPPD Santa Cop, GPFD Hearts & Hoses, GP United Charities, and Lifeline for Families. In addition, when Rodney’s schedule allows, we also proudly provide no-cost air transport to disabled military veterans.
In addition to providing housing, one of our main goals is to promote organ donor awareness. We do this through free seminars at schools, churches, and civic organizations; hosting events; and through various media platforms. The Foundation has been featured in several local and national publications, TV shows, news features, radio broadcasts, and podcasts.
Since 1997, our efforts to continuously raise the importance of organ donor awareness has included awarding scholarships to graduating seniors enrolled in Grand Prairie high schools. To date, we have happily awarded over $136,000.00.
The Nicklas Foundation manages several multi-family communities. We currently have Foundation units set aside for transplant patient families at Prairie Gate Community and at Wright Senior so each transplant patient will feel at home away from home.