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Her Daughter Got My Daughter’s Heart — a Tale of Two Mothers

Amera two weeks after her transplant.

This week I did a podcast episode that is particularly personal  for me. In it, I have the privilege of interviewing the mother of Amera, the young woman who received my daughter Teal’s heart and kidney after her death.

As one mother to another, Debi and I certainly connect out of simple empathy for the path of motherhood. And we are both happen to be people who love to laugh, and enjoy a good chat. In fact, we genuinely like each other!

But we are also people who started out as total strangers, only to become inextricably linked on August 24, 2012. On that fateful day, Amera, Debi’s daughter, received Teal’s heart and kidney after 20 hours of surgery. Debi’s description of how beautiful Amera looked after the first phase of surgery, when she received her new heart, is breathtaking. For all around Amera, there was a shimmering, sparkling glow.

I say it’s the same glow I’d felt only a week earlier as I connected with Teal’s sparkling, shimmery essence in the afterlife for the first time. It was as effervescent and light as a cloud of champagne bubbles. And yes, just as Debi describes in the podcast, it was, indeed, glowing.

So we have become connected through destiny, karma, or whatever you wish to call it.

We are mothers who know what it’s like to sit by the side of your daughter’s bed, fearing her imminent death. And we are mothers who learned such decisions are not up to us, and so we both had to learn when to fight … and when to surrender.

Today, we are mothers whose DNA is shared in the body of one extraordinary young woman. And we are definitely better for this shared connection, as we both watch Amera thrive in the Cardiac Sonography program she is taking at … yes … the very same college Teal was about to start when she collapsed.

My path with Debi has been a really interesting one, because we didn’t even know each other until about three months ago. It was not until five years after Teal’s death that we all finally felt like we could meet. So we met at Ocean Beach, the very place where we scattered Teal’s ashes – which was Amera’s idea.

That night was an experience I’ll never forget. Of course, there were tears. But there was also a recognition of something so much bigger at work here. Especially when I played a video for them of Teal singing ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. “I feel like I know her,” Amera said simply after she watched the video. There was a basic, beyond-logic recognition for all of us of the God-sent nature of our connection.

Perhaps this is just a very vivid illustration of the connection we all share — the oneness we know about and yet, somehow, seldom glimpsed.

Amara is a thoughtful and highly sensitive young woman with an amazing life ahead of her.  That much I’m sure of. And as for me and Debi … well, we’ve both been through the ringer, but we agree that we have emerged better for it. Our experiences have been remarkably similar, as this episode will tell you if you choose to listen.

If you do, you’ll hear how Amera made her way with congestive heart failure for more than seven years, until it got to the point where she had to wear a wearable defibrillator vest — to shock her back to life in case she suddenly collapsed.

You’ll also hear what it was like for Debi knowing her daughter’s death was always in the shadows … until her life was finally saved because of my own daughter’s death.

It’s a conversation filled with hardship, hope, light and a lot of love.

I recommend you listen to this when you have a moment, and really get into the idea that we are all truly interconnected. Every last one of us. Even those of us who do not know each other at all. It’s a pretty wild concept when you think about it, and organ donation makes that truth extraordinarily clear.

Enjoy. Listen to the podcast here.

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What Donating My Daughter’s Organs Taught Me About Love

3a334400f50811a048df700714c76033Three and a half years ago, I sat by my daughter’s bedside, watching her slowly die as I held her hand. As machines were unplugged and the minutes ticked by, a strange new reality settled in around me.

I was losing an inextricable piece of my heart. My beautiful 22-year-old girl — who only days before was buying books for her college classes — would instead be returned to dust.

Her father, her brother and I watched, dumbfounded, as the Neuro-Trauma team went about their end of life tasks.

In an instant, life had turned radical on us. Save for one small grace.

Because of the nature of Teal’s death – a medically unexplainable cardiac arrest – her organs and tissues could be easily donated. Lives could be saved, and so my own shattered life could somehow begin to make sense again.

Today I find myself awash with gratitude.

Believe me, I’ve thought long and hard about this experience. And I’ve extracted some precious truths. For donating life is not a cut and dried experience; it lives in your heart and soul like a small, eager plant, winding its tendrils around your everyday experiences.

If you let that precious vine of love do its work, you can, in fact, be renewed. I know I was.

One of Teal’s kidneys and her liver went to two women in their fifties. Her heart and her other kidney were received by a free-spirited young woman not much older than Teal. A young woman I’ll call ‘Amy’.

“It may sounds strange,” Amy wrote to us in a letter overflowing with gratitude, “but I feel your daughter and I would have been good friends if given the chance ….”

This young woman and I have never met, though we’ve corresponded and spoken on the phone. And just those few conversations have been enough to blaze a path through my soul, as a tiny bit of light cracks open around me.

This is a really hard thing to get.

A life was saved. Like .. saved. Yes, someone’s life was actually saved.

By me. By us. By our small consortium, standing in the Neuro-Trauma unit of San Francisco General Hospital making a decision on an August afternoon. Somehow the celestial joined us that day, and waved its fairy wand.

And so a life was saved. Maybe even several.

There is someone walking around out there – a young woman, like Teal but not like Teal in her own beautiful way – who can walk up hills now without becoming faint, and who has color in her cheeks again. She can roar through the woods on zip lines, and travel around the world …

There is a young woman out there who is now free to find the career of her dreams. She can marry, have children, and pursue anything else she so desires.

There’s also a mother out there, who can rest easy at night now, knowing her daughter won’t die tomorrow. All because Teal died and we agreed to donate her organs.

So I ask you — isn’t this the point of life, to share the love, however we can? At the time, I had no idea how big this gift was – nor did I understand how it would keep giving back to me again and again.

Yet, that is exactly what happened.

You give an anonymous gift from the heart, simply because it feels like the right thing to do. And that heals your own tattered heart.

Now I understand both the fragility of life, and our own power to support and save each other. But more importantly, I understand the critical calling to save someone you may never know.

So I become uplifted every time I think of those people who have Teal’s cells, organs, and DNA in their bodies. I don’t have to know their names … I just need to know that now we are a little bit closer, these strangers and I.

We are invisible friends in the unified field of love – a magical place that unites us all. For in the end, what are we beyond bones, skin, tissues, and organs?

We are love, my friend.

In the end, we really are just love.