Charles was an animal lover. He had a “thing” for picking up and cuddling big dogs.

When Charles Birtwistle, an aspiring doctor, tragically lost his life at the age of 32, his family knew his wishes. Charles had been a registered organ donor from the time he could put it on his driver’s license. What they didn’t know was that Charles’ selfless decision would also change their lives for the better.  

The recipient of Charles’ kidney and pancreas, a man in his fifties named Duane Schleitweiler responded to a letter from Charles’ mom, Lisa Robertson, and sister, Molly Birtwistle. Thanks to Charles’ gifts, Duane was spared hours of daily dialysis and cured of type 1 diabetes, which had plagued him since the age of 18. Lisa and Molly spent three days with Duane and his family last summer. They couldn’t deny the immediate attachment. They’re family now.

Charles is one of 46 Montana organ donors — and their family members — who were honored by Gov. Gianforte in a virtual ceremony on April 14, 2022, co-hosted by LifeCenter Northwest. Each family member received a Gift of Life Award certificate signed by the governor.

“Donate Life Month offers us a chance to reflect on the importance of offering hope to those in need, and to pay tribute to our donor families, organ and tissue donors, and their recipients. Our work continues, in partnership with hospitals and families across our region, to serve patients in need.” 

Santokh Gill, president and CEO of LifeCenter Northwest
Charles’ grandmother had a moody little dog who only Charles could handle, and he would groom him with such love and care. No professional groomer could even touch the conflicted pup!

Charles was a natural comedian and an impressive athlete. While growing up, he could “drive his mom up a wall,” but he had a true gift for lighting up a room and making people feel welcome. You couldn’t help but smile when you were in his presence. He was magnetic.

As for Lisa, she said knowing one of her son’s recipients has recreated a sense of fullness.

“Charles, in actuality, is still alive,” she shared. “As a mother, this brings up very protective feelings.”

The relationship that both Molly and Lisa share with Duane has made a huge difference in accepting the loss of their beloved brother and son. They know Charles would have liked Duane, too. This summer, Duane will visit them for a family “challenge” — a hike up Mount Sentinel on Charles’ favorite trail!

You can honor organ donors like Charles by registering as an organ, eye, and tissue donor, and sharing this decision with your family.

Charles hiking in Hawai’i. He loved to eat healthily, be outside and take care of himself and others.