A mother heard her late daughter’s heartbeat again as she hugged the man who received it in a transplant.
Amber Morgan of South Bend, Indiana, lost her 20-year-old daughter Andre’Ona Rae Williams on December 17, 2018 after Williams had an asthma attack and went into cardiac arrest. Williams left behind a brother and a sister.
“Andre’Ona was severely allergic to almost everything,” Morgan, 48, tells TODAY.com. “I would have kept her in a bubble if I could.”
Williams was a registered organ donor, something Morgan learned after her daughter’s death. “It made me a proud mom,” she says. “She had a heart of gold.”
According to the US Health Resources & Services Administration, 60% of the US population are registered organ donors. According to officials, 17 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant; a new person is added to the list every 10 minutes.
Williams’ heart was donated to Tom Johnson, 68, of Kankakee, Illinois.
Johnson had been waiting for a heart since 2017. A retired respiratory therapist and IT analyst, he was diagnosed with a heart condition called idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis at the age of 11. In his adult life, Johnson used a pacemaker and a defibrillator, but when he suffered congestive heart failure, doctors recommended a heart transplant.
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On December 18, 2018, Johnson received a call from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.
“They said, ‘We have a heart for you,'” Johnson tells TODAY.com. The next day, Johnson had transplant surgery. After a bumpy recovery that left Johnson suffering from kidney and respiratory failure (common complications of heart transplants), he was hospitalized for months. As he got better over the next year, he marveled at the person whose death had saved his life.
With help from the Indiana Donor Network and Loyola University Medical Center, Johnson was able to send a letter to Morgan.
“Many donor families say that connecting with one another helps them know someone is alive because of their loved one,” a spokesman for the Indiana Donor Network tells TODAY.com. “It is important for them to know that the recipient is doing well and that he is taking care of the organ he received. It gives donor families a sense of legacy and that their loved one will not be forgotten.”
In his letter, Johnson thanked Morgan for her blessing and described his bliss after gaining the strength to play football with his grandchildren following the transplant.
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Morgan says Johnson’s letter was “beautiful”.
“I wanted to meet him, but it just didn’t feel like the right time,” she says amid Johnson’s recovery. Then COVID hit and Morgan herself had a heart attack.
“I finally said, ‘That’s it, stop procrastinating. It’s time to meet Tom,” she says.
They were scheduled to meet Johnson’s wife, Sharon, and Morgan’s 6-year-old granddaughter, Avery (Williams’ niece), at a Chicago hotel on November 19.
Neither Morgan nor Johnson knew the other was carrying a stethoscope.
They hugged in the hotel lobby.
“It felt like our hearts were connected,” says Johnson. Morgan added, “For a second it felt like I was hugging Andre’Ona again.”
During the two-hour meeting, the new friends got to know each other and talked about Williams. They made summer plans, including a possible visit to The Bean, a Chicago art monument that had been on William’s bucket list.
“Tom is incredible – he’s gained another family member,” says Morgan.
Johnson says he knows it’s a responsibility to carry Andre’Ona’s heart.
“I’m religious when it comes to taking my heart meds,” he says. “I protect this gift.”