Nervous excitement was building as Claude Brown prepared to meet the family of his heart donor. The Lockport-area man received the gift of life in 2010 at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital after suffering with congestive heart failure.
“I don’t even know what I will say when we meet,” Brown says, choking back tears. “‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem like it could possibly be enough.”
With four grown children and seven grandchildren, Brown and his wife, Molly, struggle with knowing that one family’s loss became their life-saver. They count their blessings daily and are grateful to have seen the marriage of another child, the birth of three grandchildren and experienced an increased sense of closeness in the family.
Brown knew he had received a young man’s heart, though details were scant until a letter arrived from Richard and Debbie Wieland. Their 22-year-old son, Ricky, died after a car accident and his decision to be an organ donor changed seven lives.
Ricky Wieland was an Ohio National Guardsman studying to be a mechanic. He was a “jokester and happy-go-lucky” young man always committed to helping others. Now, the Wielands wanted to know more about those people with whom they feel a connection.
“His physical body left us four years ago, but the essence of our son lives on,” says Debbie Wieland. “We are thrilled and happy to meet Claude. We don’t want this to be a sad day. It’s a happy day for us.”
Tears and hugs streamed down their cheeks as the Wielands used a stethoscope to listen to their son’s heart beating strongly in Brown’s chest. Their April 11 meeting brought a sense of ease and comfort for both families. After enjoying a leisurely meal together, the next morning they participated in a fundraising walk to support people undergoing organ transplantation at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital. Strong is the only upstate New York hospital to offer a heart transplant service.
“I’m thankful for all that I’ve been able to experience in the last few years,” Brown said. “We want to do right by them because they’ve given us so much.”
April is Donate Life Month and an opportunity raise awareness of the impact that organ donation can have on lives. Participation in New York’s organ donor registry is poor and the state ranks last in the country in terms of participation. To join the state’s organ donor registry, go to passlifeon.org or register at the local Department of Motor Vehicles.
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