Together. Saving Lives.

Brian Odom’s Story: The Breath of Life   


Last year, lung recipient Dan Hughes walked 1879 miles.  

“I try to do at least 100 miles a month,” said Hughes, who was tethered to a 50-foot oxygen hose back in 2020. “When you’re not allowed to do something, or when you can’t do something, you double down on it. It became my thing. I try to do at least 100 miles a month.” 

Each step Hughes takes is a testament to the endurance of the late track star Brian Odom, a 20-year-old who cherished running, art, movies, video games, and above all, his family. 

“Nobody ever had anything bad to say about him, and he had a lot of people who looked up to him,” said his mother, Tashia Thompson. “Brian was the oldest of four boys. He always wanted to run, and he was a runner from middle school all the way to college. He was a team captain for cross country in track his senior year and graduated in 2019. He was attending college but didn’t know what he wanted to do yet — he just wanted to run. He was my best friend.” 

Tragically, Odom sustained a severe head injury from a skateboarding accident in August 2020. Due to Covid-related restrictions, his family wasn’t notified of his admission until 12 hours later and was unable to visit him in the hospital. 

Brian Odom running in a track meet
Brian Odom runs in a track meet

“Early on they said he was just sleeping and that he would be fine,” said Thompson. “He would try to open his eyes if you said his name. I wish I had tried harder to be at the hospital with him. While we were waiting for the hospital to call with an update, we were trying to find a teddy bear that I could record my voice on. Maybe if he heard me, he would wake up. But on Sunday I got a call from the doctor that said he was actively dying. They asked us if Brian was a donor and I told them yes.” 

Thompson knew that her son would want to help as many people as he could, and that’s exactly what he did. On August 16, Brian passed away and saved five people and countless others with his gifts of organ and tissue donation. One of those people was Dan Hughes.  

“During the winter of 2016, I had developed a cough and shortness of breath,” said Hughes. “No amount of cough medicine would help. My doctor sent me for a chest x-ray, and whatever he saw there led to a CT scan. I received a call from the doctor that I may be developing a lung disease and I needed to see a pulmonologist. The pulmonologist confirmed I had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, meaning scarring in the lungs with no known cause.”  

Hughes was told early on that there was no cure and that he would eventually need a lung transplant.  

“We went through all the testing in 2019, and on Jan 1, 2020, I was listed for a transplant,” said Hughes. “Of course, Covid hit that spring. They put everything on hold, and we tried not to think about it, but I was getting progressively worse. I was on oxygen 24 hours a day. My life was limited to the 50-foot length of the hose. I did have a portable oxygen concentrator so I could go out, but even with that you can’t go far, and you can’t go fast.” 

Hughes got a new cell phone just for “the call” that finally came on Aug. 17. Despite his joy, Hughes couldn’t shake the somber realization that his best day was somebody else’s worst day. “You’re happy but you’re sad, because there’s somebody on the other end of this,” he said. 

Hughes received his transplant on Aug. 18 and was discharged on Sept. 5. “I felt like a new man,” said Hughes. “I breathed like I did before the onset of the disease. The donor made a generous gift of life that I can never repay, and I will do everything possible to honor and take care of these lungs.” 

It was this promise to honor and take care of Brian’s gift that struck a chord with Brian’s mother. She received a thank you note from Hughes and was touched by his gratefulness and the fact that he kept track of all the miles he’s been able to walk.  

“I know how much he appreciates Brian’s gift,” said Thompson. “Knowing he is talking, breathing, and alive because of Brian’s gift. I cannot ask for anything more.” 

In response to his letter, Hughes received a picture of Brian in the mail. “Even today when I look at it I get all teary,” said Hughes, who proudly displays Brian’s photo in his home.  

Since Brian’s passing, Thompson has received letters from the heart recipient, liver recipient, and kidney recipient — but given that her son was a runner, it was his lung recipient that she was the most eager to meet.  

“I try to make the day that Brian passed away as positive as I can, so I thought that it might be a good day to meet Dan,” said Thompson. “His letter kind of stuck with me the most because Brian was a runner, so his lungs would be fantastic.” 

Family meeting at National Donor Memorial
Brian’s parents meet with Dan Hughes

The two families met at the National Donor Memorial in Richmond, VA on the third anniversary of Brian’s passing. Amidst tears, embraces, and overwhelming emotions, the connection forged through organ donation felt stronger than ever. 

“When we met in August, it helped in my healing knowing just how much Dan appreciated Brian’s gift,” said Thompson. “There’s a little garden outside, so we walked around there, and he told us about himself and his wife. I sat there and listened, because I know that without Brian’s gift he wouldn’t have been there to sit, talk and laugh. It was nice to hear about him, and how grateful he was.”  

While there, Thompson gave Hughes photos of Brian at track meets as well as a Christmas ornament with his photo on it. “We put it on our tree this year,” said Hughes. “We email each other back and forth. We have an unbreakable bond now that he lives on in me.” 

Hughes received a second lease on life thanks to Brian’s generous gift. He proudly wears his Donate Life recipient pin wherever he travels, aiming to inspire others to register as donors and potentially save more lives. 

Dan Hughes poses with his wife on vacation
Dan Hughes enjoys his first post-transplant trip with his wife

“It’s the ultimate gift,” said Hughes. “There’s nothing bigger. I think about Brian every day. I thank him for giving me extra years — so far, it’s going on four. I appreciate everything. We throw the word ‘hero’ around a lot, but he’s a true hero. Register to be a donor. You don’t need it, you can’t take it with you — and you can do so much good.”  

More than 100,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Together, we can save lives. Register your decision here: