Donated heart from SF firefighter gives new life to 63-year-old man

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It was a meeting of hearts in West Sacramento over the weekend, when a Bay Area woman grieving the loss of her life partner got to hear his beating heart.

San Francisco firefighter Perry Choy died from a stroke five days before his 47th birthday last August. 

But he left behind a priceless gift that's now giving an Oroville man a second chance at life.

On Sunday, Choy’s partner, Aletha Gomez, took a stethoscope to Jim Donovan's chest and was overcome with emotion as she got to hear her late partner's heart beating.

“I feel thankful and grateful that he lives on,” Gomez said.

Donovan, 63, was on an organ donor list because he was dying of congestive heart failure.

If not for his transplant donor, “I probably would have ended up on my deathbed,” Donovan said.

To Gomez, he expressed his condolences. “I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sure he was a great man.”

“I feel like I've met another family now,” Donovan said. 

As a firefighter, Choy set out to save lives and even after his passing, he kept to that pledge. 

“He told me, 'You know, when I pass away, when I die, what am I going to do with it? Might as well donate it and save more lives,'" Gomez told KCRA 3. 

Choy is described as a dedicated father who left behind a young son now two years old.

It was a stroke that took the firefighter's life, but the stroke did not affect his healthy heart.

San Francisco fire officials describe their late colleague as an active and strong man.

“He was probably the fittest guy in the station,” Deputy Chief Administrator Jeanine Nicholson said. “He could climb up one of our poles that we slide down no problem,” she said.

“True to a firefighter's nature, he was an organ donor,” Nicholson added.

Donovan became a heart transplant recipient through Sierra Donor Services of West Sacramento.

“Last year, we transplanted 270 people with organs in Northern California and across the country,” Executive Director of Sierra Donor Services Monica Johnson said.

While Donovan was among those who received a life saving organ transplant, Johnson said there are tens of thousands more patients on the wait-list, in need of a heart, lung, liver, kidney or pancreas.

“There's 25,000 people waiting in California for a transplant,” Johnson said. “That's about one-fourth of the waiting list across the United States."

Sierra Donor Services says 12,000 Americans died last year from either waiting for a transplant or being too ill to receive one. 

That averages out to about 20 people who die each day needing an organ transplant.

The meeting on Sunday brought comfort to Gomez, who said she's now forever linked to Donovan.

“I feel so connected with him. Actually, hearing his heart, it seems like he's family to me now. We're going to be a family.”

As for Donovan, his heart is grateful, and he plans take advantage of his second chance. 

“I'm going to see my grandchildren and try to celebrate life again,” he said.