Less than a month ago, a family faced the unbearable grief of losing an infant son while another family prepared to mourn for its gravely ill baby. Now, through one act of kindness, one child has a new lease on life, and both families have peace.
Nicole and Michael Draper were devastated on July 11, 2005, when twins Nick and Nate were born with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease where the heart muscles are not strong enough to pump efficiently. Both needed heart transplants to survive.
"The day they were born, they immediately started having complications and quickly went downhill," said Nicole, who described herself as scared, sad and terrified at the time.
The twins were transferred from Arizona to Los Angeles, where doctors at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital determined that Nick's case was more severe than his brother's and that he would need the first heart available for transplant.
Finding a heart from another infant is very difficult because the pool of potential donors is so small. Experts say infants are less likely than older children to be involved in a fatal accident. They're protected by car seats, watched more closely by adults, and are overall in a safer environment than older children. Parents of newborns also tend to not think about organ donation.
But seven months after their twins were born, the Drapers got the call they had been waiting for -- a donor heart was available.
"I was holding Nicholas on my lap at the hospital when the call came," Nicole said. "It was almost surreal."
In Florida, Tracy and Russell York had been trying to have a baby for five years before Jordan was born last year.
"When he did come, it [changed] us so much," Russell said.
"We became a wonderful, perfect family," his wife added.
But on Feb. 13, 4-month-old Jordan suffered a fatal brain injury in his grandparents' bed, after a pillow fell over his face and cut off his breathing. Doctors asked the Yorks to consider organ donation.
"It seemed like the Grim Reaper," Tracy said. "But then, after he was baptized, it was then that it hit me that, you know, hey, this is what we have to do and this is the right thing to do."
Once they decided to donate Jordan's heart, they had to wait three days with him on life support before the doctors could find a match.
Russell said watching his son's tiny lifeless body hooked up to life support was torturous.
"About the time that I was getting ready to go tell them that I couldn't do this is when they [doctors] approached me [and] said they had someone," he said.
Two Families, One Heart
Jordan's heart was flown to Los Angeles on a special jet while Nick and his family prepared for his surgery. The doctors were optimistic, but the Drapers were worried.
"You kind of are saying goodbye to your baby," Michael Draper said. "What if there is a complication or something like that? That was real hard."
After the surgery, Nick's body had initial difficulty accepting the heart.
"It felt like I was being punched in the stomach," Nicole Draper said. "We were so excited to have the heart. We all could not talk about that [organ rejection] as a possibility, and it was very scary."
After three days, Nick's body finally accepted the new heart. Doctors now say the transplant was a success.
Both families say they hope they will meet someday.
"I feel so glad. It's his soul, more than anything," Tracy York said. "I think he [Jordan] will live on forever through that little boy. … I think his spirit will always be here, because his heart is still beating."
The Drapers are still waiting for a heart for their other son, Nate, who is growing sicker every day. There are approximately 89,000 Americans currently waiting for a donated organ, and the Drapers hope their story will raise public awareness for the need for organ donors.
To learn more about Nick and Nate Draper and to find out how you can help them, click here.