In July of 2004, Colleen, donor mother and Bob, transplant recipient met for the first time. In an effort to connect, Colleen Baptista placed her palm on Bob Johnson’s chest to feel his heart thumping. But it wasn’t Bob’s heart she felt, it was the heart of her son Tim, whom she had cradled as a baby and lost as a 20-year-old when he fell from a cliff. Now that heart beats in a stranger’s body.
“We were all crying and everybody wanted to touch him...To hug him, it was wonderful,” she said.
Bob and his wife Cora had driven from Southern California to join the entire Baptista family for a barbecue at their Millbrae home. He spent the evening learning more about Tim, studying photos of a smiling young man, surrounded by friends on a raft, a beach and in his first car.
“My wife and I came out amazed,” said Bob. “I felt I belonged there.”
It was 2 a.m., May 6, 2001 when Colleen got the call that Tim was hurt in an accident, but she thought he was going to be fine. Just finishing up his junior year at Santa Barbara City College, Tim was at a friend’s party on the beach when he fell from a coastal bluff late at night.
As the Colleen and her husband raced to their dying son, Bob Johnson was lying in a hospital bed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles waiting for a heart. He had waited 14 months and had perhaps a few weeks left to live if he didn’t get a transplant. Eleven years before, his heart had stopped for several minutes after a massive heart attack, and now it barely beat at all.
At the hospital, the Baptista’s learned Tim was brain dead and decided to donate his organs. They didn’t know there was a man hoping for a second chance at life miles away.
Two days after Tim died, the Baptista’s were told that his heart, kidneys, pancreas and liver had been successfully transplanted to four individuals. To a house filled with mourning friends and relatives, the news brought a cheer.
“We were so proud,” commented Colleen, who has received letters from the recipients.
For Colleen and her family, there’s comfort in knowing that the family’s decision to donate Tim’s organs has saved lives.
Article reprinted with permission of San Mateo County Times