Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
Sarah was a girl who grew up in Washington State. As a young child she noticed that she couldn’t play like the other kids; simple childhood games would leave her exhausted and gasping for breath. When she was nine she went to the doctors fourteen separate times. At the end of fifth grade her heart failed and she was told she needed a transplant. She couldn’t leave the hospital but had to stay flat on her back to prevent a stroke. As her weight had to be kept as low as possible, she was fed intravenously through a tube.
One night she was told she was going to be able to eat food for the first time in weeks – real, solid food. The tray was brought in, set down and then quickly whisked away. Her father went to ask nurses what was happening and he was told they had found a heart. They operated later that night and Sarah says that when she was coming out of anesthesia she felt like she was drowning in air, she had never been able to breathe so well.
While Sarah had been lying in a hospital bed in Washington, tying to be patient, trying to be still, tensions were brewing between two rival gangs in Fresno. One began to taunt the other and a fight broke out. Later that night, two members decided they wanted revenge so they broke into the house where a member of the rival gang lived. They saw a person sleeping under the covers and fired three shots into their skull. Thinking they had gotten revenge on a young man named Arcateo, they had mistakenly killed Lucas, his 11 year old brother.
That night Lucas’ family stood in the hallway of a hospital, weeping and holding one another in their grief. Eventually they agreed to donate his heart which was in perfect condition. As they stood in the hallway of a hospital sobbing at their loss, a few hundred miles away another family danced and cheered at their miracle.
Usually in the case of organ donation the story pretty much stops after the surgery. Most of the time, this is where the story ends, the book is closed. Sometimes there is a thank you note passed through a social worker. Most families of organ donors don’t want to meet the recipient, it’s too painful. A lot of recipients don’t want to know anything either. This was how Sarah felt, she didn’t want to meet Lucas’ family, she was afraid she would feel guilt however, Sarah’s mother and relatives felt differently and they wanted to know more.
The hospital had told them the donor was a boy who lived in the Fresno area. They found information about a boy named Lucas who had been murdered just before Sarah’s surgery. He was killed in his home and the article listed the street where the house was located. A few months later Sarah’s mother had to go to that area for business and she found herself driving over to the neighborhood. She needed to see where he lived. She asked kids playing in the street about a young boy being killed and they pointed to a bright yellow house they referred to as the sunshine house. She drove by the house and could see people inside. She even went to his school, met Lucas’ teacher who showed her his desk. It had been kept the same. She sat at the desk, feeling as though it was almost sacred. She sobbed, overwhelmed to be amongst the items that belong to someone who saved her daughter’s life.
It was several years before Sarah’s mother actually made contact with Lucas’ family. They exchanged a few letters and photos. Sarah’s father and step mother hung his picture on their mantle, an act that bothered Sarah to the point where she stopped going to their house. To them it was a way of honoring Lucas but for Sarah, it only made her feel bad. Her father felt Lucas’ picture needed to be displayed for everyone to see. Looking at his picture gave her father peace looking at him. Her mother needed to touch Lucas’s things, she wanted to see what his life had been like. Sarah felt as though the experience was personal, private. It was, well, something she kept close to her heart.
Over the years, Sarah’s parents gently encouraged her to learn more about Lucas and maybe even meet his family. She kept saying that she wasn’t ready and then she heard that a trial date had been set for Lucas’ killers. She decided she wanted to go and support Lucas’ family. They first met the night before the trial began at Lucas’ uncle’s house. As soon as Sarah entered the house Lucas’ mother Maria rushed to her and hugged her. Sarah had been warned about what might happen so she was prepared when this tiny migrant worker pressed her ear to Sarah’s chest and she listened to her son’s heartbeat. In Spanish, Maria told her family that she didn’t want to let go of Sarah, she wanted to hold her forever.
Both Jesus and Lucas are people we met after their death, people we only met because of their deaths. Their deaths brought life. As Christians we see that Sarah’s story is so much like our own: we were helpless, we were hopeless and then through someone else’s sacrifice we were given another chance. For many of us the idea of having something that was inside someone else, placed inside us seems strange and yet as children of God, we are all the recipients of new hearts.