Abram Jones and Lywanda White have shared a connection for 18 years but just met face to face for the first time on Saturday.
It's a meeting 18 years in the making that reflects the true meaning of giving this holiday season.
Abram Jones says he was enjoying life with family and working as a dispatcher for the Jackson Police Department, when he got bad news that a chamber in his heart was barley functioning and he needed a heart transplant.
Ultimately Jones found out the left ventricle in his heart was functioning at 11% and in April of 1999, he was told he would need a heart transplant. “It never dawned on me that I would be dependent on someone else to stay alive,” said the Jackson native.
“I sat in my car for 30 minutes and cried like a baby," said Jones. "Then something said 'you can beat this'.”
Over in south Mississippi, Lywanda White was dealing with her own heartbreak.
While Jones was wondering what his future would hold, White’s father, Thomas Griffin, was working in Gulfport as a car salesman.
A Navy veteran, Griffin was also a single father to the 23-year-old daughter that he had adopted when she was just 13.
“He loved life. He was a real simple man,” said Lywanda.
Griffin was at work in September of 1999 when he began to have headaches. He was taken to the hospital where eventually he suffered a brain hemorrhage and was pronounced brain dead.
Lywanda knew what her father’s wishes were because they had talked about it. He wanted to be an organ donor.
“Then I had to make the decision at the age of 23 to let my father go,” said White.
White says her father was passionate about donating his organs, so she made sure it happened after he died.
“To give the gift of life is the best present,” said White.
Jones is grateful for a second chance at life and wanted White to know he is thankful for the lifesaving transplant.
“This was my idea. I wanted to meet my donor's family," said Jones. "They said it's not usually a request that the recipient's make, but I wanted to meet her, because I wanted her to know after all these years this heart is still beating in me.”
Lywanda had always wondered about the lives her father had touched through donation but she really wondered about the person that received his heart.
“I always wanted to know who and what because that is the part of what keeps us alive. That means he is still ticking somewhere. I was wondering did it take, how they were doing,” said White.
After three or four years she gave up on the chance of meeting her dad’s heart recipient.
Jones wasn’t sure how to go about process of meeting his donor family in the early years following his transplant but wondered about them from time to time.
10 years ago the desire to meet that family started to really take hold on him.
“It was something that weighed heavy on my heart and as I got older I felt I needed to get in touch with the people that made this possible and to say thank you,” said the 68-year-old Jones. “This year, for some reason, I decided that this was the year to do it. I didn’t know how many more years I’d have to connect with this young lady.”
Their meeting took place Saturday at the offices of the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency in Flowood.
With family and friends present, White and Jones shared a warm embrace and a few tears before Lywanda placed a stethoscope to Jones’ chest to hear her father’s heartbeat for the first time in 18 years.
“I just heard love. I can't describe the sound," said White. "I can't describe the sound, but I can tell you I felt safe again. And I have not felt like that in a long time. I think since my father died, that is all I wanted to do is give life.”
For Jones, Lywanda is now part of his family.
“It bonded us together. It is because of her and her dad, I’m still here," said Jones. "Because had I not gotten the transplant 18 years ago, who knows where I’d be now.”
To register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, please go to www.donatelifems.org.
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