A 23-year-old woman in Akron, Ohio, was moved to tears after meeting the family of someone who saved her life.
“Just absolutely amazing and breathtaking, emotional, but also gratifying,” said heart transplant recipient Katherine Herrmann.
Herrmann had undergone 20 surgeries and procedures on her heart before even reaching the age of 20. When she suffered heart failure while still in college, her doctors told her a transplant was the only option to keep her alive.
“That was when we knew I was either leaving the hospital with a heart or leaving the hospital out the back door,” said Herrmann.
Her name was added to the transplant list, but there was no guarantee of getting a heart donor. However, 35 days after being admitted to the hospital, she found out a heart had become available.
“We knew that they were grieving something immense,” said Herrmann. “A family that was losing not only maybe a child that we came to found out, but a loved one … They’ve lost them now, and while they are giving life, you’re losing that piece of them.”
The heart belonged to a 39-year-old mother-of-two, Desiree Burge, who’d died suddenly of natural causes in West Virginia. Her parents, Darrell and Elizabeth Conner, said Burge was adamant about being a donor.
“When she [Desiree] went to get her driver’s license, I was with her, and she said, ‘I want to be a donor,'” said Elizabeth, Burge’s stepmom. “She goes, ‘Oh, no, no, I got to be a donor. I want to be a donor because if I don’t do anything good on Earth, I know I will afterwards.’ And by golly, she did.”
The heart transplant surgery was a success. Since then, Herrmann’s gone back to school, works part-time as an emergency call dispatcher, volunteers at the hospital that treated her, and even ran a 5K race.
“It was very important to me, especially being so young, that I want to live a life full of energy and vibrancy ahead, and in order to do that, I want to also honor the person of the organ that I’m getting,” said Herrmann.
Shortly after the life-changing surgery, Herrmann was able to meet the Conners.
Watch the moving moment between a heart transplant recipient and the donor’s family in the video below.
“To see her [Katherine] go on in life because of Desiree, it’s phenomenal, amazing to see that,” said Darrell. “And then you get to hear the heartbeat and I mean, it’s something. How I could explain to you the feeling it was, but it was, is amazing. It is amazing that gift is given and people can live on when someone else’s life is over.”
Darrell says the pain of losing a daughter can be crippling at times, but the hope that comes with saving another life has helped him cope with the monumental loss.
“It helped me heal a lot when I’ve seen Katherine have (Desiree’s) heart,” said Darrell. “I mean, it is amazing what it’s done to me and helped me heal.”
When she got married recently, Herrmann draped a chain with Desiree’s name around her bouquet.
“I knew that I was walking down the aisle getting married to my husband because of her, and the gift that she was able to give,” said Herrmann.