John “Skeeter” Coleman received a heart transplant in February 2016. Here’s what happened when he sought out the family of the man who donated his heart.
As soon as I was well enough after my heart transplant, I went to visit my donor’s family. It was the biggest emotional rush I have ever had in my life aside from the birth of my children.
Hospitals typically do not allow direct contact between donor families and recipients for a period of time after a transplant. I mailed a letter to my donor’s family through my hospital. As soon as I sent the letter, the hospital provided me with a letter the donor’s family had written back in December. This is what it said:
This is a Christmas card to you from me and my family. My husband’s name was Paul. He was a great outdoorsman who loved the landscape and loved the military. He was a great father and husband for 22 years. We loved him. I’m just hoping you can appreciate his organ, whichever one you got.
I sent a copy of the letter to my daughters and son. They got on the Internet and started researching. Sure enough, my daughter managed to find Theresa, Paul’s wife, on Facebook. She accepted our Friend Request and got to learn more about me and my HelpHOPELive campaign. That’s when I turned to my daughter and said, “Let’s go find them.” And that’s what we did.
We met Theresa and two of her three sons at the Jiffy Mart in Chester, Texas, a town of just 312 people located a 4-hour drive from our hometown of Euless. Theresa said, “Would you like to go with us to the cemetery?” I told her I would love to.
At the cemetery, I got down on one knee and started rubbing my hands through the dirt and talking to Paul. All these words were coming out and all these feelings. All these tears started flowing and dripping in the dirt. I don’t know how long I was there. They had to help me stand back up, because I didn’t have the strength to get up on my own.
I asked if I could take them out to lunch. At a café, Theresa introduced me to all of her friends. We had catfish, fresh vegetables, good old country cooking while we talked. We talked about those boys’ daddy and what a great man he was. Paul’s best friend was there, and we talked to him about all the people who were recipients. Two people got kidneys, one person got lungs, one person got a liver, one person got part of his spine and I got his heart.
After lunch, Theresa invited me back to their house. She showed me all kinds of pictures of Paul. After a few more hours, we made the four-hour drive back to Euless. I was exhausted.
We stayed in touch after that. I’d like to get back together with them again. They have been a great encouragement and source of hope to me. I hope I can be the same for them.
Need help fundraising for a transplant? Start a fundraising campaign today at helphopelive.org. Keep up with Skeeter on his HelpHOPELive campaign page.