Meeting My Donor’s Family

Shortly after receiving a double-lung transplant, I was fortunate enough to meet my donor's family. It brought us peace, healing, and connection.

| 6 min read
Jackie-Price-Headshot
Jackie Price
Jackie-Price-Meeting-Donor-Family-Featured-Rectangle

“Hello,” I answered the phone. I recognized the number as one from Fairfax Hospital. It was the social worker. It was weird that she was calling but I had my one-year transplant clinic appointment coming up and I assumed she wanted to prepare me for some things we would discuss. “I have a letter for you from your donor's mother. Would you like me to email it to you?”

I was in shock. I had written a letter to my donor's family, but hadn't sent it yet. It's rare for the donor's family to write first. Stunned, the only word I could come up with was “Yeah.” With shaking hands, I opened the email and started to read.

“Dear Recipient,

It is with both sadness and joy that I write you this letter. My daughter, my heart passed way 12 months ago, on June 19, 2016.”

Tears ran down my face. I continued to read about Samantha. I felt sadness that she had passed away and sadness for the grief her family had endured over the past year.

My heart hurt for them. I was grateful that she left me the gift of life through a new pair of lungs. It was a while before the tears stopped.

I immediately called my mom, who thought something bad had happened because I was crying so hard. “I received a letter from my donor's mom,” I cried into the phone. She came home right away and I read her the letter. She cried with me. I called my brother, Byron, who lives in Boston. All he could say was, “Wow,” but I could hear the tears in his voice. I read that letter many times that day and I have read it often since.

I had planned to hand write my letter to Samantha's family and send it in the future, but I wanted to respond right away. A few hours later, after changing a few things because I now knew a little about my donor, I sent my response to Samantha's mom, Angela.

Angela and I wanted to meet. From the moment I found out I had a lung transplant, my mind immediately had gone to my donor, and I have thought about her every day since. Who was she? What did she like to do? What caused her death?

We decided to meet in early September so my brother, who was traveling, could be there. We agreed not to communicate before the meeting.

Arriving at our meeting spot, emotions flooded my body. I was nervous, excited, and scared all at the same time. Butterflies started to go crazy in my stomach. Thoughts similar to those you would have before a first date started to run through my mind. What would they think of me? Would I say something stupid? This was WAY more important than a first date, though. I thought, “Am I ready for this? Of course you're ready for this.”

When we met, I walked straight into the arms of Angela. Neither of us had words for the moment, just tears.

When we did finally speak, Angela told me that she felt Samantha's presence for the first time in a year.

That meant so much to me, that I could give Angela something so special. I let Angela listen to Samantha's lungs breathe for me. Most importantly, I let Angela talk to me about Samantha. The donor family meeting was all about Samantha and the great gift she had given me.

After a bit, I invited Angela and her family back to my parents' house for some BBQ, and we spent the next four hours hanging out on the screened-in porch. I learned more about Samantha and they learned more about me.

Jackie-Price-Donor-Family-BBQ-Collage

We shared photos and stories. I met Samantha's youngest sister, Allison, who was quiet at first, but became more talkative as she grew more comfortable. It was so special for her to open up to me. Toward the end of the evening, Samantha's younger sister Sara told me she felt so comfortable around me -- like we had known each other for more than hours. I felt the same way. It was an instant bond. I also got to meet Samantha's sweet dog, Benelli Rose. I am usually afraid of bigger dogs, but she was so sweet, gentle, and kind -- she won me over!

The saying, “They may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel” captures the evening for me. I don't remember everything we talked about, but I remember the excitement and happiness and laughing and smiling. I also remember sadness and holding back tears at times. But most of all, I remember how comfortable I felt all evening around Samantha's family.

Angela, Samantha's dad, Ray, Sara, Allison, and I have kept in touch. We met again in Richmond, Va., last fall and they came up to Fairfax, Va., to visit me when I was very sick this past March. I am heading down to Wilmington, N.C., to meet the rest of Samantha's family and her friends in the summer. I want to see where she grew up and enjoy some of the same places that Samantha did.

Meeting Samantha's family has been the greatest experience of my life. I encourage all recipients to write a letter to their donor's family. Even if you don't receive a response, letting them know how thankful you are is so important and it could mean the world to your donor's family. If you're the donor's family, I encourage you to be open about writing a letter to the recipient and the possibility of meeting them. Angela has told me that she felt angry about Samantha's death but when she received my letter she felt peace. My decision to respond to her and meet was definitely the right one.

If you'd like to read Angela's full letter to me, click here. To read the letter I wrote in response, click here.

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Topics
Lung Transplantation | Social Life and Relationships
Jackie-Price-Headshot

Jackie was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at birth. A native Virginian, Jackie grew up just outside of Washington, D.C. She earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Radford University and went on to start a career in corporate finance upon graduation. Jackie received an emergency double-lung transplant at Inova Fairfax Hospital on June 21, 2016. She spent four and a half months in the cardiovascular intensive care unit, and spent the last year and a half focusing on her health and overcoming obstacles that have come her way. You can follow Jackie on Instagram at @pricelessbreaths, as she raises awareness for cystic fibrosis and transplant and shares her personal journey. You can also find her on her blog, Priceless Breaths

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