Skip to Main Content
Arizona desert

Wife of Arizona organ donor listens to her husband’s lungs breathing life into New Mexico lung transplant recipient at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix

(PHOENIX – Sept. 20, 2023) A Farmington, New Mexico man met his organ donor's wife today for the first time at Dignity Health St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix where he received a lifesaving double lung transplant three years ago. Marie Bernard Johnson, of Mesa, Ariz., was overjoyed to meet Bobby Campbell, one of the people her husband helped through organ donation, and for the emotional opportunity to hear her husband’s lungs breathing life into Campbell.

The lung transplant team at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute and Donor Network of Arizona worked together to orchestrate the in-person introduction. While the two had somewhat become pen pals, they had not met face-to-face before today.

“I don’t have words to describe what this has meant to our family,” said Campbell, who was joined by his wife, Charlene, and three children with their spouses. The 74-year-old also has 10 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. “It was a blessing for us all to meet Marie in person. Our hearts ache for her family’s tragedy, and we hope she knows just how much her tremendous gift saved my life, and how much we all cherish the fact that it’s given me more time with my family.” 

In Aug. 2020, Campbell was hospitalized in New Mexico and diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis which is characterized by irreversible scarring of the lungs. 

“He was never sick, and has always been active,” said Charlene. “But on a whim, we used a pulse oximeter and his reading was in the 70s! Then we had this terrifying diagnosis, he’s on 60 to 80 liters of oxygen and doctors are telling us that without a transplant, he wouldn’t survive more than two weeks.”

Within a few weeks of his diagnosis, Campbell was airlifted to one of the nation’s largest and most experienced lung transplant programs at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix. In addition to an urgent double lung transplant, the experts at Norton also determined Campbell was in need of a heart bypass. 

Norton Thoracic Institute is no stranger to complicated medical procedures and tricky cases. In fact, it’s one of few programs in the country with the ability to offer these two incredibly complex procedures at the same time, under a single dose of anesthesia.

In early Sept. 2020, less than 24 hours after Campbell was listed for transplant, he was matched to a pair of lungs that he later learned were donated by 41-year-old Stephen Bradford Johnson.

“Stephen was a quiet, loving man who always wanted to leave a footprint in the world, making a true impact in the lives of others,” said Chandler-area educator, Bernard Johnson, of her late husband. “Knowing that Stephen’s life was extended to save the lives of three other people, and getting to meet one of them today is a treasure I will keep in my heart forever. Not only have I met Bobby and his wonderful family today, I was also able to listen to Stephen’s lungs.”

A month before Stephen’s passing, Bernard Johnson said they had talked about last wishes and that he had expressed an interest in helping others through organ donation. Now, Bernard Johnson honors her husband’s life and encourages others to learn about and become organ, eye and tissue donors.

“You’re gifting someone else extra time, that would change not just their lives, but everyone around them – their friends, their families and beyond. It’s a remarkable legacy,” she explained.

One of Campbell’s transplant surgeons, Ross Bremner, MD, who also serves as Norton’s executive director, as well as his transplant pulmonologist at Norton, Sofya Tokman, MD, were also present for the heartwarming encounter.

“We are delighted that Bobby is doing so well. He is a fighter,” said Dr. Bremner. “He was extremely sick when he arrived, but look at him now. We say that transplantation takes a village, and our village at Norton shares a kindred passion for our transplant recipients, organ donors and their families. We refuel through moments like this – seeing our patients experience more, making memories they want to make, like Bobby meeting Marie today. It is simply wonderful.”

Each organ donor has the potential to save up to eight lives, and can offer additional healing to many more through eye and tissue donations. To learn more about organ donation, members of the public can visit September is Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month.

Publish date: 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Media Contact

Sara Patterson, External Communications Manager

p: (602) 406-3312

[email protected]