Transplant Recipient Shocks Donor’s Family

Gift giving is hard. For some, it’s as stressful as buying the right car. “Should I get her a candle? Or is that too basic?” For others, it’s a smoother experience, as they have no problem making each gift exquisitely and personally match its receiver. But is there such a thing as the perfect gift? Well, there just might be.

When a desperate Massachusetts man received the gift of a lifetime, he wanted to thank the giver in a heartfelt manner. Wracking his brain for ideas, he came up with the perfect present idea — and the aftermath sent shock waves across the internet.

When Robert O’Connor was taken to Boston’s Tufts Medical Center after his Cardiomyopathy became deadly, he didn’t know if he was going to live. His heart struggled to pump blood throughout his body. He needed a miracle.

WWLP-22News / YouTube

Still, Robert was shocked when he wound up in the hospital, as he’d managed his Cardiomyopathy for over 10 years with medication. Nevertheless, he ended up getting emergency airlifted from Springfield’s Baystate Medical Center to the Boston hospital.

“It was basically, [I was there until] I get a heart… if I get a heart,” Robert relayed to WWLP. He was terrified. He lay in the hospital, unsure if he was just counting down the days until he passed away. But then, he received some news.

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It seemed 16-year-old Dakota Reid had died in a horrific car crash in January of 2019. He was sitting in the passenger seat when the driver impulsively pulled out in front of an SUV. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

John Allen Lee Reid

John Reid, Daokata’s father, decided to donate his son’s organs, though he didn’t know who said organs would go to. John ultimately wanted to give the gift of life and “continue God’s plan” through organ donation, which would make sense of his son’s untimely death.

WWLP-22News / YouTube

The heart, of course, went to Robert, who was astonished over the fact that he’d be receiving the teen’s heart. “I got the heart, I got my life back!” Robert exclaimed. After a successful surgery, Robert’s daughter tracked the Reids down and reached out; it was the right thing to do.

WWLP-22News / YouTube

Though the healthy Robert couldn’t be happier, he kept thinking about the Reids, as he wanted them to still feel a connection to their late son and his ever beating heart, but how?

WWLP

Though Robert and the Reids were in contact and planned on meeting at some point, he wanted to give them something significant, as their son gifted him with something he could never return.

“We talked about meeting. Someday in the future, we will meet so they could hear their heart, and I said, hopefully, this will help until we meet,” he said of the sweet gift…

The Franklin / Flickr

So, Robert and his new heart took a trip to Build-A-Bear Workshop. Though you may be perplexed as to how a stuff-it-yourself Teddy bear could be meaningful in a sensitive situation such as this one, Robert’s imagination and gratitude were powerful forces.

Philadelphia Magazine

Robert picked out a honey-colored bear, dressed it in a “Best Dad Ever” T-shirt, and inserted a recording of Dakota’s heartbeat inside the bear. Upon pressing the bear’s little paw, the steady beat of Dakota’s heart can be heard emanating from it’s fuzzy body.

WWLP-22News / YouTube

He promptly sent the bear to the Reids’ Virginia home. When the family received the gift, they were flooded with emotions. “We feel like we have a part of him with us now. It’s just amazing,” Dakota’s stepmom Stephanie Reid explained to People.

Stephanie Reid / Facebook

Stephanie Reid posted an impassioned video on her Facebook page of John opening Robert’s warm gift. As John opened the package, he found a note from Robert and began reading it aloud, his voice wavering with emotion.

Stephanie Reid / Facebook

“I would have preferred to give this to you in person, but not sure when that would happen,” John read. The note detailed the arrangements Robert made with the echocardiogram team to record Dakota’s heartbeat for the gift. John had tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

“When I first heard the heartbeat, it took me back to the nights I would lay my head on his chest listening to his heart,” said Dakota’s dad, John Allen Lee Reid, clearly reminiscing over the most sentimental moments spent with his late son.

Valerie Perkins Reid / Facebook

“The gift reminded me as to why I donated his organs and how much of a hero my son became. The feeling is absolutely beyond [a] description of anything in this world,” John continued.

John Allen Lee Reid / Facebook

John wants to share his family’s story with other families, in order to promote the beauty and closure of organ donation and save more lives. John now feels that Robert is like family to him, as the heart he created will forever reside in Robert’s chest.

John Allen Lee Reid / Facebook

But Robert isn’t the only one whose life Dakota’s organs saved; a farmer reached out to John to notify him that he received Dakota’s kidney and pancreas, as well as a 21-year-old man who now sees the world through Dakota’s eyes.

@selenagomez / Instagram

“It has helped us so much to know he helped save lives. It is the best healing and comfort I could ever ask for,” John said. Dakota will never be forgotten, and any time the Reids miss Dakota, they can listen to the soothing sound of his heartbeat.

Stephanie Reid / Facebook

Though the Reids haven’t yet met Robert, they plan on doing so soon. We’re sure they’ll be drenched in tears the second they hear Dakota’s heartbeat in person, as was the mother of late Illinois child Cazmirr Cierra upon hearing her son’s heart beat in another’s body.

John Allen Lee Reid / Facebook

Single mom Brooke Eaton lived a humble life in Peoria, Illinois, with her two young kids, Cazmirr and Cierra. Her two kiddos were the focal point of her life, and she wouldn’t want it any other way. Sadly, they would only be a trio for so long.

Dignity Memorial

Little Cazmirr, AKA “Cash” or “Bubby,” may as well have been the happiest little two-year-old boy in the world. The blonde, train-loving angel didn’t know the meaning of the word “shy.” He was always on a mission to make new friends with a smile plastered on his face.

Dignity Memorial

“He was full of life. He wanted to travel the world. On his tricycle. In a day,” Brooke told the Woodford Times. Sadly, little Cash would never get to travel the globe on his trike.

Dignity Memorial

During a visit to grandma and grandpa’s East Peoria house, Cash wound up leaping in the property’s swimming pool. Though the family did all they could to rescue him while he flailed in the water, their efforts were made too late. It was a scene that haunts every parent’s nightmares.

When the paramedics arrived, Cash wasn’t breathing. They immediately rushed him to a medical center, but ultimately, after several days on life support, Brooke had no choice but to let her dear boy go. But she didn’t want her only son to pass for no reason…

Dignity Memorial

Brooke met with representatives from the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Network to discuss the idea of donating Cash’s organs. “I know that he was a very sharing boy and a very loving boy,” Brooke said of her deceased child.

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“He loved to play with other kids, and (he was) very outgoing. I know this is something he would want to have done,” she continued. Cash’s organs were donated to at least four recipients, one being a 16-month-old girl who was in desperate need of a heart transplant.

Dignity Memorial

Media relations coordinator for Gift of Hope Shauna Schuda sent an email detailing the condition of Akeley, Minnesota’s Lola Bond, who would receive Cazmirr Lander’s heart. In August of 2018, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.

Illinois Society for Healthcare Marketing and Public Relations

Cardiomyopathy, which is also referred to as heart muscle disease, enlarges the heart and makes it difficult to pump blood throughout the rest of the body. Considering Lola was just an infant, her heart was too big for her tiny body.

Journal Star

When Lola’s grandmother, Margaret Bond Vorel, was gifted with the news of a heart transplant match for her sweet granddaughter, she admitted to having mixed emotions. Understandably, it was a lot for her to take in.

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“I was overwhelmed with grief for the family that had to lose their little one to provide a heart. I was very relieved that (a heart) was found, and we were going to be able to keep (Lola),” Margaret explained. There were a medley of emotions brewing.

Dignity Memorial

Lola successfully received Cash’s miracle heart on September 4, 2018. But it wasn’t until September of 2019 that Brooke went to visit Lola for the very first time, indirectly being reunited with her late son.

After Margaret expressed her undying gratitude for Brooke’s difficult deed, Brooke decided meeting Lola would be a gratifying experience. The Illinois mother, along with her 4-year-old daughter, Cierra, trekked it to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, where Lola was a patient.

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When Brooke first laid her eyes on sweet Lola, who donned purple glasses and a pink, frilly dress, she was hit with emotion. “As soon as I walked in the room, it was very overwhelming,” she told CNN. Tears of joy, pain, and motherly love streamed down her cheeks.

Star Tribune

“I saw her, and I just broke down and cried … I could feel my son. His heartbeat was so pure.” Brooke held baby Lola in her lap, who played with a plush toy, put on a stethoscope, and gingerly listened to Cash’s heart thump inside Lola’s chest.

WCCO

It soon became apparent that the tender moment would lead to a long-term relationship between Brooke, Margaret, and little Lola. After that sentimental day at the hospital, Brooke and Margaret began speaking on the phone and over video chat daily.

Star Tribune

“There’s that connection with her, because without her great gift, Lola wouldn’t be here. In some way, it almost feels like Cash can continue on his journey with Lola,” Margaret said.

Albeit Lola will need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life, the transplanted heart was thriving inside Lola. It was a match made in heaven (literally). Margaret set up a Facebook page, called “Lola’s Rockstars,” to record her granddaughter’s medical progress.

Star Tribune

“People need to talk to their families about organ donation. Or you can donate blood when you have the opportunity, or save a life by donating bone marrow. There are a thousand ways to help,” Margaret relayed. After learning of this touching story, her words speak volumes.

KSTP TV

While making the decision do donate Cazmirr’s organs was an emotionally taxing one for Brooke Eaton, being on a never-ending wait list for a suitable organ may just be even more stressful. Choices like hers save lives.

Dignity Memorial

Lives of those like James Beeching, 36, of Hastings, East Sussex, who loved to share adorable photos of his twin toddlers, Isobel and Logan, on social media. His friends and family knew to check James’ feed for hilarious updates about his cheeky little ones.

Daily Mail

James’ friends also knew that despite his silly sense of humor and posts about his kids, he was battling a serious illness. He had cystic fibrosis, a disease in which the lungs become clogged with sticky mucus.

CTV News

But, the realities of his illness didn’t crush James’ spirit. Having been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of two, he’d long since adjusted to daily physiotherapy and taking enzymes with meals to aid digestion. His illness didn’t stop James from enjoying a relatively normal, fulfilling life…

James Beeching / Facebook

He built a career in public service as a community organizer and married his sweetheart, Becky. Together, they started a family; a pair of cute twins, a boy and girl, brought them so much joy.

Daily Mail

But just when his life was more full of purpose than ever, his health reached a critical point: James’ body couldn’t fight off infections as well as it used to. Hospital stays increased, and his lung function continued to decline.

Daily Mail

In January 2017, James’ lung function was so poor that doctors took drastic measures. He was assessed for a lung transplant and ultimately added to the waiting list. At any moment, the phone could ring to announce new lungs were on the way.

James Beeching / Facebook

Making the list was a start, but receiving a donor match could take months. While waiting for news — and staring down his potential demise — he made a responsible, but an emotionally wrought decision for his children.

James Beeching / Facebook

James recorded videos for his twins in case he succumbed to his sickness. He hoped against hope that his twins never had to see the tapes, but he knew if he did pass, he had personal things to share with them both and this was the best way to do it.

James worried that his twins would be too young to process the situation, or even remember him entirely. His videos would be a physical reminder that their father existed and that he fought with every ounce of his strength to stay and be their dad.

James Beeching / Facebook

Soon, James’ health declined to the point where he was in the hospital all the time. He’d adjust to life at home for a few weeks, then be rushed back for intravenous antibiotics. In April 2018, he contracted a serious infection. He feared that he would die while waiting for a transplant.

James Beeching / Facebook

Growing sicker by the moment, a glimmer of hope emerged. The phone rang at last! A pair of lungs from a potential donor had just become available! James had to act quickly to prepare for surgery.

One day before the lung donor call came through, James had been admitted to London’s Royal Brompton Hospital. The potential donor was an hour away, at the Harefield Hospital in Hillingdon, a world-renowned heart and lung transplant facility. James was rushed over on the spot.

Hidden London

But in the end, the donor’s lungs were unsuitable. James took the blow gracefully. He knew that this process wasn’t simple. “False alarms do happen,” he said, “so while it was emotional, it didn’t shock me.”

James left the hospital that day feeling strangely inspired to keep fighting. He made a video on Facebook, thanking his supporters. He knew without their support, he would find it hard to keep fighting.

He also took the opportunity to remind people of the importance of becoming an organ donor. He hoped his words would have an impact, since they were coming from a hopeful recipient, after all!

James Beeching / Facebook

Two months after the first, a second possible donor came through and it all started again: Rush to hospital. Wait for answers. Repeat. These lungs were also not suitable. James continued making videos for his kids — they seemed so much more important now…

Less than 24 hours later, the phone rang a third time. Again, the lungs couldn’t be processed. Exhausted, James and his family didn’t know how much more they could take.

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“Life became more difficult and my body was really struggling,” he said. “I was needing more and more oxygen and generally finding it hard to keep up.” James spent most of his summer out of the hospital. His body grew more feeble, but he felt glad to be home, making the most of each day with his children.

When the phone rang again about a donor just a couple months later, he kept realistic expectations. Then, they told him to shower and prep for surgery: the transplant was full steam ahead!

James Beeching / Facebook

The struggles of the past year melted away in mere hours. Surgery went off without a hitch! James’ body accepted the donor’s lungs. He could take a well deserved first breath of relief.

Steve Nothin / Flickr

Five weeks after surgery, James returned home to his family. Other than a few minor complications, his recovery was smooth. He said, “It’s almost like when you buy a second-hand car – at first, every little noise makes you nervous, but you do get more used to it as time goes on.”

James Beeching / Facebook

The online community following James’ story was thrilled. Besides his gratitude to all the supportive family and friends, he wanted to take a special moment to acknowledge one other person: the selfless donor who saved his life.

Just Giving

“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about my donor and their family,” James said. He never intended to place pressure on those who felt uncomfortable with organ donation to make that choice. But, if he could sway one person to take a leap and register, he could pay it forward.

The New York Times

Because of his donor’s gift, James was able to destroy the tapes he made for his children. Neither he nor they would ever have to worry about losing him again.

Pearl Lucia Barcoe / Flickr

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