One dad decided to bike 1,400 miles to hear his organ donor daughter’s heartbeat on Father’s Day. Five months had passed since Bill Conner said goodbye to his 20-year-old daughter Abbey. Of course, he was still mourning the loss of his daughter. But, he wanted to do something to honor her memory.
So, he decided to bike 2,600 miles from his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He would visit Broward Health Medical Center, the hospital that recovered Abbey’s organs for donation in January.
On May 22, 2017, the day after his son Austin graduated college. Conner set out on his journey. He told CBS News that Abbey would’ve wanted him to do this. And, he wanted to do it as well to commemorate her short life.
A tragedy for Conner’s family
Abbey’s life tragically ended during a family vacation to Cancun, Mexico, over winter break. Shortly after they arrived at the Hotel Iberostar, Abbey and Austin went to the pool to relax.
Apparently, they decided to have a few drinks at the pool bar but started feeling unwell soon after. No lifeguards were present. A guest saw the brother and sister facedown and unconscious in the pool and rushed to alert hotel staff. Unfortunately, by the time someone noticed them and pulled them from the water, Abbey had suffered irreversible brain injuries.
She was flown to the hospital in Fort Lauderdale, where doctors desperately tried to save her life. However, too much damage had been done. They kept her on life support until they could harvest her organs for transplant.
Abbey had decided to become an organ donor when she got her license at 16. She and her family had discussed it previously. Abbey was a very giving, caring person, so her family wasn’t surprised at her decision. Little did Abbey know at the time that registering as an organ donor would save four men’s lives.
Bill wanted to meet the transplant recipient of Abbey’s heart
Bill said his daughter always looked out for her friends and loved helping people in need. So, becoming an organ donor just went along with her values and compassionate nature. His daughter’s untimely death devastated her family. However, knowing she was still helping people even after she passed took some of the pain away.
As the family said their last goodbye to Abbey, a 21-year-old in Lafayette, Louisiana was on death’s doorstep. There, doctors told Loumonth Jack, Jr. that he had 10 days to live after suffering a heart attack. Facing imminent heart failure, the young man knew only a miracle would keep him alive.
That’s when doctors informed him that he’d need a heart transplant. By a stroke of luck, there was no waitlist at the time. It just so happened that Abbey’s heart would end up saving his life.
He’s alive today because of Abbey’s choice to become an organ donor. Three other males, ages 20 to 60, are also getting to live thanks to her. In addition to her organs, Abbey donated her eyes and other tissues.
How Bill connected with the young man
Conner contacted the donation center that handled Abbey’s organs about his bike journey to honor her. He wanted to meet every organ recipient, so the center sent letters to all four of them. However, the only one who responded was Jack Jr., the heart recipient.
The donation center gave Jack’s phone number to Conner, who talked with him several times. They had plans to meet in Baton Rouge – 1,400 miles from his hometown – on Father’s Day.
Conner said that Loumonth seemed very humble, courteous, and respectful. As a dad himself, Conner could tell the young man had been raised well.
When Conner finally met Jack that Father’s Day in 2017, he already felt familiar to him. They both walked toward each other with open arms, sharing a minute-long hug. Jack’s friends and family were there to witness the special moment as well.
Jack then pulled out a stethoscope so Conner could listen to his organ donor daughter’s heartbeat once again. Conner listened intently and heard his daughter’s heart thumping inside Jack’s chest. It was an emotional moment, and both men began to tear up.
It meant everything to Conner to hear his daughter’s heartbeat again. This moment reminded him that Abbey lived on in Jack and the three other transplant recipients. Knowing that they’re still here thanks to Abbey, and it’s her heart beating inside Jack, kept his connection with her alive.
The meeting allowed Conner to see firsthand how Abbey’s life benefited others. Without her, Jack wouldn’t be standing today. He felt incredibly grateful for the second chance she’d given him. He wanted to repay her somehow, but knew he couldn’t. The meeting with Conner gave him a chance to express his love and gratitude, however.
Jack’s family also recorded his heartbeat so Conner could listen to it along his bike ride. It was a long journey, but it was worth it to reunite with his daughter.
Meeting with Jack allowed Conner one last chance to hear his daughter’s heartbeat. She’d been taken away from her family far too soon, but her legacy will live on. At only 16, she had made the decision to become an organ donor. This selfless decision would end up saving four people’s lives, making Abbey a hero even after death.
After Jack and Conner spent a little more time together, Conner continued on his way. He wanted to spread awareness about all the beautiful reasons to become an organ don along his journey. He also shared his daughter’s story, hoping to inspire others.
To him, being an organ donor means overcoming selfishness and giving others another shot at life. This puts things into perspective, as many people wait months or even years for transplants. Your heart, lungs, or other vital organs could help save someone’s life. If you’d like more information on becoming a donor, please visit The National Donate Life Registry.