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Epilogue | Raymond "Ray" Martin

Ray Martin lived for organ donors who gave him his heart and kidney

In 1988, for the third time in five years, Ray Martin's heart quit.

The insurance salesman lay in a hospital bed in Troy, N.Y., waiting to get a new heart.

For that to happen, someone else had to die.

Several miles to the north, a 23-year-old motorcyclist was killed by a drunken driver.

Mr. Martin got his heart.

Eight years later, he needed another organ transplant to live, this time a kidney.

Nearby, a 17-year-old boy was killed in a traffic crash.

Mr. Martin got his kidney.

After his life-saving organ transplants, Mr. Martin tracked down the parents of both donors, thanked them and pledged to live a full life for their sons.

On Friday, Mr. Martin died at Suncoast Hospice of melanoma. He was 79 and had lived in Clearwater.

Raymond Martin was born in Buffalo, N.Y. He served as an optician in the Army during the Korean War. He was a good dancer and bowler.

He spent his working years in New York and sold all forms of insurance for Allstate.

"He had a laugh that anyone would recognize," said David O'Berry, his son. "If you didn't see him in the room and you heard his laugh, you knew he was there."

Of customers for whom he wrote policies, 96 percent renewed them. "Once you got to know him, you kept coming back," O'Berry said.

Always the gung-ho salesman, Mr. Martin answered each medical setback with a favorite expression: "Keep the faith." After his first heart attack, at age 50, he joined a tennis club. He joined a bicycle club after the second and rode 100 miles.

He barely survived the third.

After his heart transplant, doctors estimated he would live three to five years. But Mr. Martin was more curious about something the hospital would not tell him: Who had given him his heart?

He knew the donor had come from Albany and had to have died within hours of his operation. Through an obituary, Mr. Martin learned that Gary Crawford, 23, of Albany had been struck Nov. 17 while riding his motorcycle.

A Catholic himself, Mr. Martin called the Catholic church mentioned in the obituary and explained the situation.

Gary Crawford, 74, the motorcyclist's father, recalled what came next: "The priest called and asked, 'Do you want to meet the fellow who got Gary's heart?' "

Mr. Martin paid the Crawfords a visit. He thanked them for his heart and told the family he would be living for Gary, too. Before he left, one of Gary's sisters hugged Mr. Martin for a long time and wouldn't let go.

The next several years brought joys and tumult. Mr. Martin married Theresa, the second marriage for each. He moved to Clearwater.

But he contracted Legionnaires' disease, a possible result of anti-rejection drugs that suppress the immune system.

His kidneys failed. He went on dialysis. By 1996, Mr. Martin needed another medical miracle.

On March 31, 1996, Anthony Dixon, 17, was riding with two other Land O'Lakes students when the driver lost control. The car went off U.S. 41 and wrapped around a palm tree.

Authorities asked Brenda Dixon if she would allow her son's organs to be donated.

"It was the most difficult decision I ever made," said Dixon, 59.

Again, Mr. Martin wanted to know whom to thank. He contacted LifeLink, an organization dedicated to organ and tissue transplant, and wrote letters that were forwarded to Dixon.

He bore flowers when they met and wept when they spoke. "He said, 'I know you must be going through a lot of pain,' " Dixon recalled. "But just seeing him and seeing how he appreciated the gift made the pain less."

Mr. Martin also noted with pride that thanks to Anthony, he was now part African-American.

Mr. Martin and family members have visited one another over the years. On Nov. 17, 2008, 20 years after his son died, Gary Crawford stood in the clubhouse of Mr. Martin's mobile home park in Clearwater to celebrate what Mr. Martin called his "rebirthday," sharing a cake with letters that spelled out, "Thanks, Gary."

Over the years, Mr. Martin also had a knee and hip replacement.

He rebounded from every setback — dancing, bicycling, golfing, bowling. It led to a family nickname: the Bionic Man.

Brenda Dixon, who exchanged Christmas cards with Mr. Martin, visited him at Moffitt Cancer Center after he was diagnosed with melanoma.

In the same spirit as the young organ donors who saved his life, Mr. Martin willed his body to a university for medical research.

Researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Raymond 'Ray' Martin

Born: Aug. 7, 1933

Died: Aug. 31, 2012

Survivors: wife, R. Theresa Martin; sons, Raymond Martin Jr. and David O'Berry; stepchildren, Lisa Stewart and Keith Reger; sister, Marilyn Hendler; 8 grandchildren.

Ray Martin lived for organ donors who gave him his heart and kidney 09/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 11:12pm]

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