LifeCenter Northwest connects donor family and heart recipient 30 years later

It’s never too late to say, “thank you,” even if that gratitude arrives decades later.

In late April, LifeCenter Northwest received a small unassuming card in the mail. “This note is a long time in coming, but has been on my heart for a long time.”

Thirty years to be exact.

The note was from Karen, the mother of an organ recipient whose life was changed all those many years prior because of the generosity of an organ donor. Her son, John, received a heart transplant and has been living a healthy, productive life ever since.

After receiving the letter, LifeCenter Northwest Donor Family Aftercare Specialist, Nika Short, put on her detective hat to investigate this organ donation from so long ago. Not an easy task, especially as she faced the extensive stacks of record books and file folders from three decades ago. There’s no Google in our chart room.

She got to work starting with the pieces of information she knew, such as the name of the recipient and the date of the transplant. After combing through the stacks, her keen eye came across a donor name that seemed to match our recipient’s information. Now to find a link to the donor’s family.

Records from so many decades prior are not always consistent; people move, get married and change names, etc. Nika went into research mode, scouring social media and even Ancestry.com to see if she could make contact with a family member of the donor.  After messaging a few people on Facebook that shared the donor’s name, someone finally messaged back – she was indeed the donor’s sister.

The two messaged and spoke directly, and Nika was able to let her know that her brother’s heart recipient was alive, healthy, and that his mother, Karen, had reached out by letter. The donor’s sister was only 19 years old at the time of her brother’s death and was so excited to hear of this communication from the heart recipient’s mother. We were then able to forward the letter along for her to share with her family.

A letter was sent back to us just a few weeks later, to be forwarded to John’s mother. “I’m writing this on Mother’s Day to tell you that my family was so grateful for your note. I am so happy you are able to continue celebrating this day due to my brother.”

The opportunity to connect donor families and recipients is one of the most gratifying parts of our job. For families to see, first-hand, the living, breathing power of their loved one’s gift, and recipients to say thank you for a second chance at life, is a heartwarming experience to witness. Connecting two parties this far out from the date of donation is certainly unique, and we hope that they both find solace in their correspondence and the selfless gift that brought them together.

This past summer, John and his family celebrated his 30-year heart transplant anniversary thanks to the generosity of a donor he never knew.