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Organ recipients reflect on spiritual connection with donors

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jul 17, 2014
and last updated 2016-09-15 10:40:18-04

Dave Boswell had never met the woman who received his late daughter’s lung, nor had he seen a picture of her.

Then he was at The Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland’s annual Ceremony of Remembrance for organ recipients and their donors, about eight months after his daughter Carrie’s death.

“I saw her in the hallway, and there was just this spark of recognition,” said Boswell, an Arnold resident. “She gave me a hug that I will feel for the rest of my life. I feel it right now.”

Boswell got chills.

“It was almost like my daughter was included and said, that’s her,” he said.

Such feelings are not uncommon for organ recipients. With months, weeks or sometimes only hours to live, those who get a second chance at life -- often due to a gift from a stranger -- feel a spiritual connection to the donor and his or her family.

"You are carrying a part of them, literally," said Pastor Barry Hargrove, a two-time kidney recipient.

Before Carrie Boswell died at 18, she told her family she wanted to be an organ donor. So her family donated everything they could when she passed, including her lungs, kidneys, skin and even her corneas, which helped a blind man in Baltimore see for the first time, her dad said.

The Boswells have struck up a close friendship with lung recipient Debbie Thompson and her family, who live outside of Harrisburg, Pa.

Elements of Carrie have popped up in Thompson. The first time Thompson attended one of her daughter’s basketball games after receiving her new lung, she screamed so loudly her daughter heard it on the court.

“My daughter could make a long-distance call to San Francisco without benefit of a telephone.
That kid could scream,” her father said. “That was her lung.”

In the four months since John Wilhide has received his new liver, he's come to learn a lot about Douglas Lozinak, the man who donated it.

The similarities are hard to ignore.

Watch John Wilhide's Story:

Both Loyola graduates, both in their early 50s, both diehard Baltimore Ravens fans.

"I'm sure I'll find out what his opinion was of Joe Flacco, and I hope it's the same as mine," said Wilhide, 51, speaking at last month’s Ceremony of Remembrance.

When Wilhide, of Mt. Washington, was introduced to Lozinak's best friend after the ceremony, he realized he'd met the man before.

The coincidences were strange, said Wilhide's wife, Erica.

Wilhide, diagnosed suddenly with cholangeo carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that affects less than 1 percent of cancer patients, received Lozinak's liver after Lozinak suffered a fatal heart attack.

Wilhide likely had just a few hours left when the liver arrived, his wife said.

John Wilhide said there is "absolutely" no question in his mind that he and Lozinak share a bond that goes beyond the organ that saved his life.

"A higher power brought us together, there's no doubt about it," Wilhide said.

Amy Sherald suffered from congestive heart failure and received a new heart on Dec. 18, 2012, when she was 39.

"It's very emotional," Sherald said. "You know you wouldn't be here without their gift."

An artist and avid runner, Sherald was diagnosed with her condition when she was 30. Sherald met the family of her donor, Kristin Smith, for the first time last month at the Living Legacy ceremony. Living Legacy is a nonprofit organization that facilitates organ and tissue donations in Maryland.

"I thank Kristin for every brush stroke. I thank her for every run," said Sherald, her voice breaking.

READ MORE:Organ donation gives second chance at life

Like Wilhide, she has noticed some odd coincidences between her and Smith. Her boyfriend and Smith share the same birthday. And she received her new heart on her mother's birthday.

Or as Sherald calls it, her second birthday.

Hargrove, of The Prince of Peace Baptist Church in Baltimore, has received two kidneys since he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease in June 1995, when he was 29.

He received the first kidney four years later from a woman he knew through his Bible study group. At the time, he didn't know her well.

"She told me she had a dream, and in the dream she had a vision, she was going to give me a kidney," Hargrove said.

Prior to the donation, the woman -- whom Hargrove now considers part of his family -- was unable to conceive a child. Within a year, she and her husband were expecting a baby, and they now have two daughters, Hargrove said.

Was this part of a larger plan that donor and recipient didn't know about? Hargrove likes to think so.

The disease, though, resurfaced. Hargrove spent six years waiting for a kidney transplant until he got a good match in November 2012 from a 33-year-old man.

He hasn't met the donor's family yet, saying he's only recently gotten up the emotional strength to track them down and say thank you. Hargrove said he plans to do that through Living Legacy soon.

He said a lot of his habits have changed since the transplant. Hargrove is a vegetarian now, and said he is more concerned with his overall wellness. Partly, that's because of his health scare, but he also wonders if he's taken on some of the traits of his donor.

"I was a coffee fanatic. Four cups a day," Hargrove said. "Now I don't like it anymore."

He can't explain why.

"I'll be interested to see if the image I've compiled in my mind jives with reality," Hargrove said.

SEE MORE: Organ donation stats growing, impact local

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