Long Island TRIO Volunteer meets heart donor’s family on Valentine’s Day

By Erica Pearson
Published on February 14, 2015

Jennifer Lentini received a life-saving heart transplant as a teen. Matthew McIntyre, who died at age 14, was her donor. Now, 18 years later, Lentini will finally be able to say thanks to his family.

Jennifer Lentini, 31, looks at a photograph of her heart donor, Matthew McIntyre (center in photo), with his stepdad and sister.

Watch the video here.

His heart has kept her alive for 18 years — and on Valentine’s Day, a Long Island woman will finally be able to tell his family how grateful she is.

“My goal in life was always just to say thank you — and give them all a hug. And that’s what I get to do. The timing couldn’t be more perfect,” said Jennifer Lentini, 31, who is flying to Tampa, Fla., Saturday to meet her donor’s mom and brother.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m probably going to cry, because I’m a crier. I kind of just speak from my heart, and it works for me,” said Lentini.

Lentini suffered from heart muscle disease as a teen and spent three months at New York-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center, waiting for the transplant that would save her life.

“In the back of my head I always knew somebody was going to have to pass away for me to live. That was difficult guilt for someone who was 13 years old,” Lentini said.

On July 5, 1996, in upstate Fulton, Matthew McIntyre, an outdoorsy 14-year-old who loved fishing, was fatally shot in the neck by a friend who took a .380-caliber handgun from an unlocked cabinet at another teen’s home. The boy was loading the gun when it accidentally went off, he told police.

That night, when doctors asked Matthew’s mom, Vicki Brannon, if the boy could become an organ donor, she agreed.

Lentini received Matthew’s heart the next day.

“He was such a loving person, that I know, and I knew then that he would want that to happen,“ said Brannon, 56, a homemaker who moved to the South decades ago.

“His heart is beating, keeping someone alive, and I’m so happy for that,” she said. “I know that right now, he’s feeling what I’m feeling — and he’s happy about all this.”

Brannon sent a letter to Lentini and her family not long after the operation and included a photo of Matthew. The two families did not make direct contact until recently.

Lentini, now a bartender living in Hicksville, has been hospitalized several times through the years because of signs of organ rejection, she said.

She currently is healthy, going to a personal trainer twice a week and playing tennis. She thinks about the boy who gave her his heart every day, she said.

This winter, she decided to search for his family on Facebook, and after exchanging messages, spoke on the phone first with Matthew’s brother, and then his mom.

This weekend, which also marks National Donor Day, they all plan to get to know each other.

“I just want to give her a big hug and tell her I’m glad she’s here. I’m going to show her things that were his, and let her see what he was all about,” Brannon said.

“I was so happy to hear it was a 13-year-old girl that got his heart so she could live. I’m extremely happy that she’s still alive. She is so appreciative, and I think she’s a wonderful girl. I’m really proud of her,” she said.

For more information on organ donation, go to LiveOn NY at www.LiveOnNY.org or call (646) 291-4444.

epearson@nydailynews.com

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