Robin Bagwell: Sharing the Gift of Life

With a toddler at home and another baby on the way, young Robin Bagwell and her husband Norm found out that he had a condition that would eventually lead to kidney failure. For the next decade, they lived their lives, raised their children, advanced their careers, contributed to their community—and they waited.

Today I sit across from Robin Bagwell in a busy lunch restaurant in Dallas. She has two successful grown children, one who is a graduate student and one who is a Marine. She has a warm demeanor, a busy schedule, and a swarm of friends. (During our one-hour interview, three people in the restaurant recognize and say hello to her.) She and Norm have become known in Dallas for their generosity and community engagement.

And another thing: she has only one kidney.

When Norm’s condition had advanced to the point that he needed to start looking for a kidney transplant, the family began testing for donor matches. Everyone thought his brother, who bears a striking resemblance to Norm, would be a match. Instead, it was his sister who matched, and Robin did, too. Robin adamantly insisted that she be the donor. “I am going to donate my kidney,” she told Norm. “If you want it, you’d better get in line.”

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For Robin, the decision seems to have been simple and clear. Though she is reluctant to say it herself, Robin’s default response to situations is to give. While her kids were growing up, she was the classroom volunteer and the team mom. She has spent recent decades building an extensive resume contributing to Dallas nonprofits and causes. When the question of donating a kidney to Norm came up, she answered with a resounding yes. She hasn’t stopped giving since.

As a natural optimist, it is difficult for Robin to talk about the hardship the kidney transplant process might have caused. For years, she and Norm had to consider worse-case scenarios: not finding a match for Norm, his body rejecting the kidney, and even raising her children on her own. Her reaction to these difficult realities is surprising, though: instead of recalling them with a negative sentiment, she remembers the experience with gratitude and approaches new challenges by paying it forward.

“We spent much of that time helping create memories for the kids,” Robin says of the 10 years leading up to the kidney transplant and the years that followed. As State Fair of Texas loyalists, she speaks fondly of their tradition of going each year as a family, bringing friends, and playing “the chicken game.” Now grown, her children still come home for the fair. She speaks with great pride about her children, and credits the kidney transplant for grounding her and Norm in being present with their family. “It’s easy to lose sight and put work before family,” she admits, “but it gave us perspective. It helped us know what matters most.”

These memories clearly did impact Robin’s children. When she was nominated for an Outlive Yourself Award from the nonprofit group Taylor’s Gift in 2016, Robin found out that it was her daughter who wrote the nomination. Taylor’s Gift is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support families impacted by organ donation. Taylor’s Gift was inspired by its namesake, Taylor, a 13-year-old who lost her life in a skiing accident, but who donated her organs to beneficiaries around the country. The Outlive Yourself Awards are an annual event intended to celebrate individuals who uphold the Taylor’s Gift mission. Not only did Robin receive the Outlive Yourself Award in 2016, she and Norm are now the 2018 chairs of the event.

The couple has always approached their situation with optimism, resolve, and even a sense of humor. Robin’s favorite retorts to Norm include, “It’s ironic that I saved your life and now I have to kill you!” and “I gave you a kidney; what more do you want from me?”

That the Bagwells were fortunate in their outcome isn’t lost on Robin, though. Every year for the 12 years since she donated her kidney, Robin has used her wisdom to privately mentor other families who are going through similar trials. She’s supported people who have anonymously donated organs, who have watched their children receive transplants, and who have waited on dialysis for the organs they need. She speaks highly of Taylor’s Gift, which offers support to organ donor families and works to grow the organ donation registry. “Taylor’s Gift is about giving families the gift of time,” Robin says. It’s an experience she is living first-hand.

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“We can all give. We can all make a difference,” Robin says, and she encourages everyone who can to donate blood, to register as organ donors, and to learn more about donating bone marrow, which also became a personal cause for her when her niece was diagnosed with leukemia. She and Norm are also chairing Fly Fore Leukemia, which benefits Leukemia Texas.

Currently Robin is gearing up to celebrate new honorees for the fourth annual Taylor’s Gift Outlive Yourself Award. She fits comfortably in this role that recognizes the contributions of others. For a woman who literally gave away a piece of herself, she is quick to pass credit to other people—the friends who supported her, the community she loves, and the family she fortified with her gift.

Perhaps her generous nature is what inclines Robin to brush over her own selfless acts in favor of others, but one thing is certain: what Robin Bagwell lacks in kidneys, she makes up for in heart.  


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Story by Liz Navarro. Photos by Hunter Lacey.

Mary Martin