Heart transplant

Heart transplant: Mother hears her deceased son’s heartbeat for the first time in the chest of a 14-year-old donor recipient

METAIRIE, La. — When Maria Clark’s son, Nicholas Peters, died nearly two years ago in a car accident, she said she knew right away she wanted to donate her body’s organs. 25 year old young woman.

“I said, ‘We can’t bury all this magic, we have to share,'” Clark, the mother of three survivors, told ‘Good Morning America,’ describing her son as ‘the life of the Party “. “

“He was always a people person, helping everyone, going out of his way to make sure you knew you were special,” she added, and said, “everyone was ‘Team Nick. “.”

Clark, of Madisonville, Louisiana, said she also knew Nicholas’ wish was to be an organ donor. So, with the blessing of his family, his organs were donated to people across the country.

Unbeknownst to Clark, one of the recipients was less than three hours away.

In September 2020, in nearby New Iberia, Louisiana, 14-year-old Jean Paul Marceaux was on a waiting list for his second heart transplant.

Jean Paul, now a seventh grader, was just 2 years old when he contracted a virus and developed cardiomyopathy, a condition in which “the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood is reduced,” according to the Centers for Disease. Control and Prevention (CDC).

After being on life support for six months while waiting for a new heart, Jean Paul underwent a heart transplant when he was 2 years old. But more than a decade later, her heart began to fail, according to her mother, Candace Armstrong.

“When he had the first transplant, we knew the likelihood of him having a second one was very likely,” she said. “He ended up in hospital in June 2020.”

Jean Paul spent the entire summer in the hospital, fighting for his life, before the family received the call they were expecting in September, informing them that a heart was available, according to Armstrong.

“It’s such a dichotomy because you hope it because it’s going to support your son’s life, but you know what it’s related to,” she said, describing receiving the call as a “deluge of emotions”.

“I know another mother has what I’ve been praying for that doesn’t happen. It’s a very unusual situation,” Armstrong said.

Clark said she knew her son’s heart was donated but didn’t know to whom at the time.

In most cases of organ donation, families are told to wait a year before reaching out, and it is the donor’s family who is able to make the request.

Armstrong said they never heard from the family of Jean Paul’s first heart donor, but less than a year after his second transplant, they received a letter from Clark that put a name and a face on it. on the donor.

“In 10 years of never having a response from our first hero’s family, we still honor that family and that hero, but it’s just not tangible. We’ve never had a face. We didn’t know who it was,” Armstrong said. . “For Jean Paul to actually know a person and connect with him and his family, this was the first time it had happened to us.”

Clark said she couldn’t wait a full year to learn more about the people, like Jean Paul, who her son gave new life to. She said she also wanted to write to the recipients to “tell them about the life they had inside.”

“I wrote right away,” she said. “I wanted to know where his organs were. I want to know that they are fine, that they are fine and that they are moving on with their lives and their health.”

Both Clark and Armstrong said they went online immediately after the letter, talking on the phone and keeping in touch via text and Facebook, with Armstrong sending updates on Jean Paul’s recovery.

“She showed me a video of him dancing at his first prom and I was like, ‘It’s Nick. He gets it. It’s Nick,'” Clark recalled. that.”

Because they live within three hours of each other, Clark and Armstrong scheduled an in-person meeting, which was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and Jean Paul’s need to remain isolated to protect his immune system, according to Armstrong.

After Jean Paul got better after the transplant, even returning to school in person, the two families met for the first time in person on May 14 in New Orleans. Their meeting was hosted by the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency, the state’s nonprofit organ and tissue recovery agency.

Armstrong and his son brought Clark a stethoscope so she could hear her son’s heartbeat in Jean Paul.

“He came in and he just hugged me. He had a big hug, just like Nick did,” Clark said. “And then hearing the heartbeat, it was so loud and so full of life.”

“It came through the stethoscope so hard, beating like a drum,” she said of Jean Paul’s heartbeat. “I was so connected to him because he looked so much like Nick.”

Armstrong said she and her family consider Clark and her children and grandchildren to be part of their family now “forever.” She said they had pictures of Clark’s son all over their house, including one on a bookshelf in Jean Paul’s bedroom.

“We feel like we know him,” Armstrong said. “We talk about him, Nick, like he’s part of his family, and he is. He’s not a giver anymore, he’s Nick.”

Armstrong and Clark both said they hope their story inspires others to become organ donors and support organ donation.

“Nobody wants to talk about what happens when someone dies. It’s an uncomfortable situation,” Armstrong said. “But it’s very important because someone like Jean Paul, he wouldn’t be alive if it hadn’t been for organ donation.”

In the United States, more than 100,000 adults and children are currently on the national transplant waiting list, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Among organ donations, there is a particular need for black donors, according to the data. While nearly 29% of people on the organ transplant waiting list are black, they make up only about 13% of organ donors, according to the HHS Office of Minority Health.

“I’ve learned there’s a huge lack of donations from the African-American community,” Clark said. She is African American, just like her son. “And when you get that phone call or notice that they can’t do anything, there’s something you can do to help them by donating organs and letting your loved one live through others.”

Clark said that although she misses her son “every day”, she finds comfort in knowing that Peters, who she described as someone who loved to exercise and eat well, now helps countless other people to lead healthy lives.

“I just know he’s in heaven, dancing and looking down and saying, ‘Bravo,'” she said, adding that she also felt another message from her son. “He’s like, ‘I’m not done with you yet, mom, I have more to come.'”

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