The Center For Organ Donation Recovery and Education is a group that helps donor families and organ recipients to communicate after the transplant process has been completed. Jeni Stepien’s father, Michael was killed during a robbery and his family donated his heart.
Arthur Thomas received Michael’s heart. Before his transplant, Mr. Thomas was just days from death. He noted, “In order to get to the top of the transplant list, you have to be really hurting. Once I had my transplant, I, of course, decided I would write a thank-you to the family.”
After his first communication with them, the relationship between Thomas and Michael’s family grew. They reached out via email, monthly calls and letters. They had yet to meet in person. All that changed when Jeni became engaged.
“One of my first thoughts in that following week was, ‘Who will walk me down the aisle? I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, it would be so incredible to have a physical piece of my father there.’ ” Ms. Stepien said.
Stepien sent Thomas a letter asking if he’d walk her down the aisle on her special day. Thomas consulted his 30-year-old daughter, Jackie. He wanted her permission.
Thomas said of Jackie’s response, “She said, ‘I think it’s a wonderful idea.'”
The two met one day before the wedding ceremony. Thomas suggested the bride-to-be grip his wrist so she could feel his pulse. “I thought that would be the best way for her to feel close to her dad. That’s her father’s heart beating.” Mr. Thomas noted.
The families plan to stay in touch in the future. “I felt wonderful about bringing her dad’s heart (from New Jersey) to Pittsburgh. If I had to, I would’ve walked.” Mr. Thomas said.