Almost 10 years ago, Jeni Stepien lost her father, Michael Stepien during a robbery. The family decided to donate his heart and began the process to get on the organ donation list. His organs were donated via a group known as the Center for Organ Recovery and Education. Through the organization, donor families can communicate once the transplant is complete. The name of the recipient was Arthur Thomas, who was days from losing his own life.
Mr. Thomas noted, “In order to get to the top of the transplant list, you have to be really hurting. Once I had my transplant, I, of course, decided I would write a thank-you to the family.”
After that, the relationship deepened with monthly calls, letters and emails. Though the families had never met in person, that changed when Jeni got engaged in October.
“One of my first thoughts in that following week was, ‘Who will walk me down the aisle? I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, it would be so incredible to have a physical piece of my father there.’ ” Ms. Stepien said.
From there, Ms. Stepien reached out via a letter, asking Mr. Thomas to be there for her special day and to walk her down the aisle. After consulting his own 30-year-old daughter, Jackie, for permission, the answer was yes.
Regarding his daughter, Mr. Thomas noted, “She said, ‘I think it’s a wonderful idea.’ ”
Mr. Thomas and Ms. Stepien met last Thursday, one day prior to the wedding. Mr. Thomas suggested gripping his wrist, where she could feel his pulse clearly.
“I thought that would be the best way for her to feel close to her dad. That’s her father’s heart beating.” Mr. Thomas noted.
The families plan to stay in touch in the future.
“I felt wonderful about bringing her dad’s heart (from New Jersey) to Pittsburgh. If I had to, I would’ve walked.” Mr. Thomas said.