Joy Armstrong

“When they turned that piece of paper around, showing that he had already made that decision, it was very humbling. There was my child’s signature.”

— Joy Armstrong

After the death of her son, Robbie, Joy Armstrong has found comfort in knowing that his legacy lives on through his gifts of organ donation. Like many other loved ones of donor heroes, she and her husband Brad found solace in Robbie’s lifesaving final act – one that he had chosen when he signed up as an organ donor years before.  

“I knew I raised him right,” said Joy, reflecting on his decision. “Seeing that it was his choice meant a lot.”  

Robbie was born with a congenital heart defect, which the Armstrong family knew would eventually require surgery. He was a quiet, gentle young man, described affectionately as an “old soul” by others. After a childhood of farming, outdoors, and family, and with a love of music, he had reached 24 years old and had some tests completed to check on his heart, which showed a need for surgery.  

In January 2023, Robbie was among a very small percentage of patients who suffer a stroke after such a procedure.  

After all efforts to save Robbie’s life failed, the conversation shifted to donation.   

“I didn’t know how I would feel about donation, in that moment, even though in general I have supported it and understand its importance,” said Joy, reflecting on her conversations in the hospital. “When they turned that piece of paper around showing that he had already made that decision, it was very humbling. There was my child’s signature.”  

Indiana Donor Network team members collaborated with hospital staff to guide Joy and Brad through their most difficult days and ensure that they had a clear understanding of the steps that would occur throughout the donation process, and that the family had everything they needed in the midst of this tragedy. “Making sure we had eaten, offering tissues, or a warm blanket, or a bottle of water – they just thought of every single need we had,” she recalled. “They knew exactly how to explain everything we needed to know and were so gracious. It was amazing.”  

Among the most impactful moments of Robbie’s donation was an honor walk, which Joy describes as manifesting the importance of donation in a physical way. An honor walk is the moment when a donor hero is transported to the operating room for organ recovery surgery. Hospital staff and Indiana Donor Network team members line the halls to honor the donor, recognize the immense weight of the gift being given and show support for the donor’s family.  

“I was there when he was born, and wanted to be there when he was gone. It was a gift, and he went peacefully.”  

Joy and her husband Brad find it bittersweet to know that the worst day of their life was the answer to someone else’s prayer. Robbie went on to donate three organs for transplant and research, saving the lives of two recipients and positively impacting their families and communities.

Joy’s experience was so moving that she stepped on stage at the Indiana Donor Network Amplify Donation and Transplantation Summit to share her story with over 300 Indiana healthcare professionals in a conversation with the event’s emcee. She wanted to make sure that partners of Indiana Donor Network, who work with families just like hers, could hear how Indiana Donor Network staff helped to make her experience as meaningful and positive as possible.  

Joy’s willingness to speak directly impacted healthcare partners in attendance, with multiple post-event comments echoing this one from an RN in northwest Indiana: “I love hearing stories from donor families. It solidifies the role of every single person involved and the true gift that donation is.” 

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