ATLANTA - How do you say “thank you” to the person who saved your child’s life? A Georgia mother tried to do that this weekend, as she met the mother of her son's heart donor.
At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, it was a moment a year and a half in the making.
"A lot of emotions," says Brandie Hernandez.
Hernandez has come from Vidalia, Georgia, with her extended family.
Jessica Harris has driven from Berea, Kentucky, with her fiancé' Brian and their 4-month old daughter Adily.
Adily is wearing a tiny tutu, embroidered on the back are the words “donor sister.”
Harris says she’s feeling emotional today, but will be okay.
"I mean it's been a year and a half, of waiting,” she says.
Their lives first crossed here at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta in early September 2014, with a heart transplant.
Jessica's 8-month old son Toby – critically-injured in an accident at his babysitter’s- was on life-support in a Kentucky ICU. Tests showed no brain activity, which meant no chance of recovery. So, Jessica did the one thing she could: asking doctors to donate her only child’s organs.
Toby’s heart was given 8-month old son Daniel Avila, Brandie's son. He'd been struggling with heart problems since birth. Toby's heart was his only chance.
"Since he got it,” says Daniel’s mother. “I always wanted to know who it was, to thank them. It's a big blessing."
"I'm just ready to hear his heart beat again,” says Jessica.
In the garden of Children's at Egleston, LifeLink of Georgia has brought the two mothers together for the first time since the transplant.
Jessica and Brian, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran are here with Toby's two grandmothers.
Brandie and her family are here with Daniel, now 2 and a half.
Toby's grandmother sees him first, touching her hand to her mouth.
At first, it's hard for both women to find words for this.
Donating Toby's organs, Jessica says, was the best decision of her life
So, seeing this child he saved, and the mother she helped, is powerful.
"She doesn't have to go through losing a child,” Jessica says. “Because losing a child is something you never get over.”
But this, she says, is helping her heal.
“Because every day I get to know Toby is still here,” Jessica says.
And Daniel Avila isn't the only one Toby helped.
"His liver went to a little girl,” says his mother. “And his kidneys they combined into one and gave it to a 29-year old woman."
Then, as family members watch, Jessica puts on a stethoscope, and listens to Toby's heart beating inside Daniel's chest.
“Really strong, really loud,” she says.
Daniel stays calms as Toby's family members take turns listening to his heart. Toby’s father. His grandmothers. One kisses this child -- who carries Toby with him.
Brandie Hernandez holds Daniel, watching quietly.
"I wanted to cry,” she says. “But I held it in. It's a big deal for them."
It’s a big deal for both families. Brought together by chance and by grace.
Toby’s family gives each member of Daniel’s family t-shirts, with Toby’s name embroidered in a heart across their chests. Daniel’s shirt reads “One heart, two souls.”
"He's both of our sons now,” says Brandie Hernandez.