Grieving parents share son’s story to raise awareness about organ donation, life after loss

After a tragic car accident took their son Cameron's life, Sarah and Arlin Fisher donated his organs to save others — a decision they knew Cameron would have wanted. Still grieving, the Fishers found comfort in meeting Cameron's organ recipients, connecting with Mayo's transplant team, and operating their nonprofit, Crosses for Cameron.

Just a few days before Sarah Fisher got a call that would change her life forever, she and her husband, Arlin, had a conversation with their son, Cameron Bolton, about organ donation.

Arlin was helping Cameron with a job application and needed his driver's license.

"Cameron, aren't you an organ donor?" Arlin asked.

The 22-year-old Fargo, North Dakota, resident was sure he was, but his license didn't show it.

"We figured out what happened. Cameron lost his wallet hunting that fall, and when he got a new license, he was in such a hurry that he missed the question about organ donation," Sarah says.

It was no big deal. Cameron would sort it out when it came time to renew his license. Or at least that's what he thought.

Unfortunately, Cameron never got the opportunity. But the conversation would ultimately save lives and help Cameron's parents find a way through their grief.

The call that changed everything

On June 28, 2018, around 11 p.m., Sarah's phone rang. She answered to an unfamiliar voice on the other end. It was the local sheriff.  

Cameron had been in a car accident. He was a passenger in a car that collided with a van in an intersection.

Cameron was full of life and an adventure-seeker. His love for all things big and fast began early on. By age 7, he was driving farming equipment, and by high school, he had added snowmobiles, BMX bikes and four-wheelers to his resume.

Sarah sometimes worried about the dangers of these activities he loved so much. So, when Sarah learned Cameron was in an accident, it felt like her fear was realized.

Cameron and Sarah Fisher.

She rushed to a nearby medical center, where Cameron was transported from the scene of the accident. There, she was met by a trauma surgeon and a neurosurgeon. They told her Cameron had suffered a fatal brain injury.

Sarah felt like the room was spinning.

She clung to every ounce of hope that her son would one day be able to enjoy the activities he loved once again. Family and friends joined the vigil, filling his hospital room with crosses and praying for a miracle.

"This was not what I imagined God's plan for Cameron's life to be," Sarah says. "I pictured him getting married, having children, and being a successful construction manager."

A few days after the accident, when that miracle didn't come, Sarah made a choice she knew Cameron would have wanted — remembering her husband and son's conversation — to donate his viable organs.

Immediately after making the decision, she recalls looking out the hospital window and seeing a giant rainbow fill the sky. She took it as a sign.

On July 2, 2018, Cameron passed away. That same day, he saved several lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.

Meeting Cameron's organ recipients

After losing her son, Sarah took steps to reach out to the recipients of Cameron's heart, liver and kidneys.

"I sent them all a packet about him because I wanted them to know who he was," Sarah says.

To her surprise, she heard back from all three recipients. She and Arlin arranged to meet and spend time with them and their families. 

"I've learned now what a miracle that is — not everyone gets to meet their recipients," Sarah says.

While getting to know his recipients, she says she saw and heard glimpses of Cameron in them.

Although these serendipitous moments could never fill the Cameron-sized hole in their hearts, meeting Cameron's organ recipients and hearing how he saved their lives comforted Sarah and Arlin.

"It is horrible to experience the loss of a child, and if we could change it, we would, but we can't, so we are trying to make the best of it," Arlin says.

Healing words from Mayo's transplant surgeons

After meeting Cameron's organ recipients, Sarah also sent a packet about Cameron to Mayo Clinic's heart, liver and kidney transplant teams. She wanted them to know about Cameron, too.

"I wanted his doctors to know, on the other side of the organs they held in their hands, was a very special person and a family who wishes he was still here," Sarah says.

To her surprise, Sarah received a call from Julie Heimbach, M.D., who transplanted Cameron's liver, and a letter from Richard Daly, M.D., who transplanted Cameron's heart.  

The doctors thanked Sarah for the packet and expressed their gratitude for making the selfless decision to donate Cameron's organs to save others.

I wanted his doctors to know, on the other side of the organs they held in their hands, was a very special person and a family who wishes he was still here.

Sarah Fisher

"It would not have been easy for you to write to me, but I am very grateful that you did," Dr. Daly wrote to the Fishers. "You are the heroes that let us help others with transplantation."

The doctors' kind gestures deeply moved Sarah.

"For them to process what I sent and personally reach out to me meant a lot," Sarah says.

She hopes all doctors consider this simple act of kindness if they receive a note from a grieving person or family.

"It is so healing to know they care," Sarah says.

In addition to his letter, Dr. Daly donated to Sarah and Arlin's nonprofit, Crosses for Cameron.

Honoring Cameron's memory, building community among grieving families

Vowing never to stop telling Cameron's story and sharing about the miracle of organ donation, Sarah and Arlin founded Crosses for Cameron in 2018.

Through the organization, they travel around the country to speak to high school students and at other events. Thousands of people have heard Cameron's story and about the lives he saved through organ donation.

When the COVID-19 pandemic paused their in-person speaking engagements, they had to get creative with how they honored his memory and raised awareness for organ donation.   

Sarah had the idea to paint "Donate Life" rocks and put them in a resealable plastic bag, along with a sheet of paper telling Cameron's story and an invitation for people to share their own stories with them if they have one.

Sarah's goal was to have one rock bag in every state within six months. They reached that goal with help from friends, family and social media in only six days.

We are thankful for everybody ... the first responders who were out at the accident, the businesses in town that supported us with food and other things, the funeral home, and the doctors who took Cameron's three viable organs to extend other people's lives.

Arlin Fischer

Through the effort, they received dozens of stories from people near and far who found a rock bag and were moved by Cameron's story or had been touched by organ donation in some way in their own lives.

In addition to their rock campaign, in 2021, Sarah and Arlin petitioned the local parks and recreation division to bring a "Garden of Healing" to South Fargo. Now open, the Garden of Healing is where people who are grieving or facing hardships can go to heal.

"The garden itself is beautiful, but the real beauty is the people who visit and their stories," Sarah says.

The garden features flowers, walking paths, sitting areas, statues and bricks that people can purchase and inscribe to remember a loved one. Cameron's brick sits in the garden, another reminder of his beautiful life and gift to others.

"I know grieving parents always look for a place to put their loved one's name. It makes us feel happy," Sarah says. "This is somewhere people can go to remember and reflect."

Continuing impact

Cameron's story didn't end as anticipated, but his impact was bigger than Sarah and Arlin had imagined. They continue to see how he has touched the world and thank everyone who has supported their grieving journey.

"It's been an interesting road that we've gone down, but we are thankful for everybody," Arlin says.

"We think about the first responders who were out at the accident, the businesses in town that supported us with food and other things, the funeral home, and the doctors who took Cameron's three viable organs to extend other people's lives," he says. "We have an amazing community and a lot of wonderful people in this world."