"I know she was an 18-year-old from Pennsylvania," said Melore. "I'm just eternally grateful for her and her parents for making this -- such an overwhelmingly generous decision at such a difficult time."
Melore said she wrote Eckert's family an anonymous letter.
"I thanked them and, you know, expressed my extreme appreciation for what they did," Melore told Gibson. "I told them about myself and that I would be able to achieve my dream of going to Princeton, and that I was just very grateful."
Eckert's mother wrote back and the two began a sporadic correspondence over the years to come, but never met.
Melore went on to graduate from Princeton in 2003. For the past six years, she has been working on outreach programs with motor vehicle departments to encourage people to sign up as organ donors when they get their licenses.
"I feel so fortunate to be working in this field because it doesn't feel like a job," Melore said.
Melore said the spirit and memory of Eckert is always with her. When Melore went to Costa Rica last year, she said she rode a horse in Eckert's honor. She called it one of the most defining experiences of her life.
But throughout the years, Melore had never met Eckert's family -- until now. Every year in the Rose Parade, Donate Life has a float honoring organ donors. This year, Eckert will be among the people being honored, with Melore riding along.
"I try to live my life in honor of Shannon and try to keep her memory and her legacy alive through mine," said Melore, "because I feel like we're living -- I feel like I am living for the both of us."
Just before Christmas -- the two families came to the offices of "The Gift of Life" Donor Program -- and met for the very first time.
Tammy Eckert, Shannon's mother was too emotional to say anything until the moment Melore walked through the door. Then hardly any words were needed. The two embraced as more hugs and tears followed.
Ellen Melore thanked Tammy Eckert as they hugged.
"I so feel your pain, for what you went through, you are a hero to so many people," she said.
Tammy Eckert responded, "Thank you. Shannon is the hero."
"It was so hard to lose Shannon -- and I know all the work that Jessica does," said Tammy Eckert. "Shannon's life wasn't in vain. She lives on. And through Jessica, other people can learn that, yes, you lose your loved one, but that person will live on and do great things."
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