Connected by heart but kept apart: Transplant recipient and Labrador donor family can't find one another

The Loder family and the man who has their loved one's heart want to meet, but provincial legislation isn't allowing that to happen.

They're not allowed to identify themselves in the letters they write back and forth

Pat Loder, Jeff's mom, reads a letter from the recipient of her son's heart. (John Gaudi/CBC)

The Loder family and the man who has their loved one's heart want to meet, but provincial legislation isn't allowing that to happen. 

They write back and forth but they aren't allowed to identify themselves.

"When I read these letters, and the mix of emotion, there's a mix of joy everywhere," Pat Loder, Jeff Loder's mom, told CBC's Labrador Morning.

Jeff Loder, second from left, was 19 when he died by suicide in 2016. (Submitted)

"It's almost right to your soul. It pierces your heart, but it goes even further. It lifts you." 

After Jeff took his own life in the summer of 2016 at the age of 20, the family decided to donate his organs to give three individuals a new start on life.   

The recipients, likely in Eastern Canada, received his heart, liver and lungs.

The rules

A year ago, Pat Loder began writing letters to the recipients, telling them about her son and asking how they were doing. 

The man who received Jeff's heart wrote back — but there was a catch. 

The Loders have received two letters over the last year. Each has gone through a vetting process to ensure anonymity. (John Gaudi/CBC)

The Organ Procurement Exchange of Newfoundland and Labrador screens letters between donor families and recipients limiting information that can be shared. 

Letters have to be anonymous with no reference to the whereabouts or the identity of the parties involved.

The first letter from the heart recipient came in November, just before what would have been Jeff's 21st birthday. 

The first letter

"Dear Donor family," it begins. 

"I am glad you decided to contact me as I wanted to contact you people, but thought it might be too soon. And no, I can't imagine how you feel and what you must be going through." 

A part of him still lives within me.- Heart recipient 

"I hope you can feel a little bit better knowing that in your way, and out of your son, a part of him still lives within me." 

Loder said the letter helped her family get through Christmas. 

The second letter

The second one was written in the spring and arrived in the past couple of weeks.

In it, the recipient explains his last letter was rejected for being too detailed. 

Pat Loder, Jeff's mom, wears a pendant in memory of Jeff. (John Gaudi/CBC)

"So, this letter will be tamed down," he wrote.

"I wanted to tell you more about my family and their likes and dislikes and accomplishments. But they won't let me. So here goes again. This heart is working really good."

Searching on social media

The recipient expressed interest in meeting the Loders, and Jeff's mom has been trying to figure out who the receipient is since.

"To hear the beating of a heart that once beat in your child, I'm sure it's, yeah, no words needed," she said.

"Can you imagine how overwhelming it will be to meet each other?"

Jeff lived in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The Loders are using social media, sharing what they know so far, in hopes of expanding their reach.

  • The recipient is a licensed carpenter
  • He has three sons and a daughter 
  • He's also a grandfather, uncle and grand-uncle
  • He likes country music and Abba
  • He had a family reunion with 48 immediate family relatives this summer
  • He loves travel, the outdoors and fishes bass
  • He was sick for approximately five years before the transplant
  • The surgery took place on July 31, 2016, in Ottawa

This year for Jeff's 22nd birthday, the Loders want to meet their son's heart recipient in person, believing that it would be healing for the family.  

Knowing that there's three individuals and their families and friends out there that's forever impacted — that's powerful.- Pat Loder

They also hope, one day, to hear back from the people who received Jeff's lungs and liver.

"The choice to donate gave the recipients a huge thing, but it gave us more than we thought," said Pat Loder. 

"It will never bring our son back. That loss we will always feel. But knowing that there's three individuals and their families and friends out there that's forever impacted — that's powerful." 

About the Author

John Gaudi

CBC reporter

John Gaudi reports from Happy Valley-Goose Bay for CBC's Labrador Morning.