A fifteen-year-old girl nearly died on a Friday morning in California. Her father and first responders—then multiple emergency surgeries and interventions—kept her alive. She spent her sixteenth birthday in a coma. She spent thirty days balancing between life and death in a hospital waiting for a heart.
A two-year-old girl in Arkansas probably never saw the car that crossed the center line and struck her grandma’s car head on. She, too, spent days comatose. But instead of waiting for an organ to save her life, her family faced a week of agony followed by the words: brain dead. Because of their sacrificial love a six-month-old received a heart, an eight-month-old received a liver and a sixty-seven-year-old received new kidneys.
Two days later and more than 1800 miles away, the sixteen-year-old’s family learned their middle daughter would be getting a heart.
These stories intersect only in time and prayer. The families do not know one another. I never met the two-year-old who became an organ donor or the sixteen-year-old who became an organ recipient. But I’ve prayed for them, and their families, since each of them went into the hospital: one waiting to receive and one waiting to give.
Both families faced the horror and beauty of organ donation and the delicate timelines associated with it. Miracle after miracle unfolded, creased by pain.
Today, one family is burying a toddler. And another family is in the earliest, most fragile post-transplant hours praying a weary body will accept a stranger’s final gift.
And words lodge sideways in my throat because life requires death—how can that be?—my head almost grasps it, but my heart does not.
Grief and joy. They come in such quick succession they blur into an indistinguishable assault. A one-two combination. And the weight of emotion behind their punches is breath-taking.
Even as I pray for two families, the number affected is so much greater . . . in ways awful and awesome.
This was written two weeks ago today, March 6, the day of a burial in Arkansas and a successful heart transplant in California. And today, March 20, that sixteen-year-old girl still has a long road to recovery, but she is recovering well and her “new” heart has saved her life.