A special Moment: Family hears son’s heartbeat in another man’s chest
The devastating phone call to the Heisler family came at 4 a.m. one Sunday in March. Their son Matt, a student at the University of North Dakota, had died in a house fire. He was just 21.
But fittingly for a young man described as tender, with a huge heart that was always in the right place, Matt was an organ donor. And so his heart beats on.
“It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that the heart I grew up with and felt in all of my hugs when I hugged him — that it is still out there somewhere,” his sister, Casey Heisler, told NBC affiliate KARE of Minneapolis.
After their embrace, the Heislers listened to Matt’s heartbeat with a stethoscope. The sound left the family in tears. Tom will always be “a part of the family now,” said Jared. Adding that “getting to help this wonderful man, this Vietnam vet” has really helped the family.
The Heisler family — Casey and Matt’s parents, Jared and Cheryl — had been waiting to feel that heart again since it was transplanted into Tom Meeks, who lives in Washington state.
Because of Meeks’ age and other health concerns, five hospitals refused to consider him for a heart transplant. But the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., gave him a lifeline, putting him on a waiting list, then giving him Matt’s heart.
Eight months after Matt died, his family went to meet Meeks in Rochester. The Heislers drove two hours from their home in Lakeville, Minn., to meet Tom, who was in town for a checkup.
“Obviously in my case they are going to have a very warm spot in my heart,” Meeks said before the meeting. “I woke up this morning and told Matt that mom and dad are coming today.”
And for a moment, the Heislers got to embrace the heart they love.
Matt’s organs helped as many as 60 people. A 46-year-old woman received one of Matt’s kidneys. The other went to a 56-year-old woman. The life of a 61-year-old man was saved by Matt’s gift of a liver.
Throughout life, we all wait for something or someone. Tom Meeks spent three years waiting for a heart transplant. Back in April of 2011, the Vietnam Veteran was diagnosed with a rare heart disease called amyloidosis. Doctors said he wouldn’t survive without a transplant
But before Meeks, who lives in Washington State, was put on a waiting list for a transplant, he was rejected five times by different hospitals. As he waited and held out hope, his liver was malfunctioning.
Meeks was led to the Mayo Clinic. Meeks said doctors didn’t make any promises but told him they would run the test to see if he was eligible to be placed on a waiting list.
Turns out, he met five of the six requirements.
In November of 2014, Meeks and his wife, Ann, packed their bags and moved to Rochester where they would wait for the call.
That call came in March. His wait was finally over.
And while Meeks and his wife got the call they hoped for, the Heisler family got a call no family wants. It was Sunday. The call came at 4 a.m.
“I was sitting on the steps and I heard my dad say, ‘Are you sure it’s Matt?'” Casey Heisler said. “I thought I was dreaming.”
Matthew Heisler, 21, a student at the University of North Dakota, had been involved in a house fire. His friend and roommate, Ryan Nelson, pulled Matthew Heisler from the burning home and performed CPR until help arrived.
Doctors say Matthew Heisler’s heart stopped beating twice. And soon after, there was no brain activity.
Turns out, Matthew Heisler signed up to be organ donor when he was 16 years old. After renewing his driver’s license, Matthew Heisler asked his father, Jared, what he had done by “checking the organ donor box.”
“He made the decision that if life ever slipped away from him, he would give life to someone else,” Jared Heisler said.
And that decision was no small feat. Tom, who waited nearly three years for a lifeline now lives with Matthew’s heart.
Eight month’s after Matthew’s death, his parents and younger sister, Casey, listened to Matt’s heart beat inside of Tom’s chest.
“This is awesome,” Jared Heisler said after he listened.
Matt didn’t just donate his heart. His generosity helped 60 people.
A 46-year-old woman received one of Matt’s kidneys. The other went to a 56-year-old woman.
The life of a 61-year-old man was saved by Matt’s gift of a liver.
Rebecca Ousley with Life Source said every 10 minutes a name is added to the waiting list. Someone dies waiting every 18 minutes. More than 3,800 people are waiting regionally, and more than 123,000 nationally.
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