Wednesday October 11, 2017

'This heart is working real good': Organ recipient's letter exchange with donor family

Pat Loder (right) pictured with her family. Jeff Loder (second from left) was 19 when he died by suicide in July 2016.

Pat Loder (right) pictured with her family. Jeff Loder (second from left) was 19 when he died by suicide in July 2016. (Submitted)

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Pat Loder of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., has been exchanging letters with a man she doesn't know but would like to — a man who received a heart transplant the night her son, Jeff, died.

The law in her province, Newfoundland and Labrador, prohibits donor families to meet recipients, but they are allowed to exchange letters, provided they don't share their identities. 

After Jeff's death on July 29, 2016, his lungs, liver and heart were donated to three people.

Loder says, after a grief counselling session, she felt compelled to write to all of them, "just to see if life was getting a little bit better for them."

"I had a get well card for each, and I wrote that by hand and it was signed, donor family," Loder tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

Pat Loder

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

"What I wrote was, enjoy an ordinary day, enjoy the simple things in life, you know, get out, let the sun fall on your body, smell the fresh air, the leaves rustling because it was starting to get a little bit later in September," she recalls writing in the letter but says she didn't want to put any pressure on the recipients.

"It was just the simple things .... I wished them, you know, to get well soon and I hope their life was as complete as they needed to be."

Then Loder got a reply.

"Instantly I thought of Jeff and I felt the loss," she tells Tremonti.

I remember I just fumbled the letter around in my hands ... I got my friends to take me back to one of their houses, and I said, 'Okay make a cup of tea — us Newfoundlanders, we like our tea."

Since getting the letter, Loder says she's read it a thousand times. The letter arrived at the end of November, just shy of Jeff's birthday on Dec. 2 — "It was like, 'Mom, I'm sending you a present.'"

The recipient shared his sympathies in the letter and introduced himself as father, married with four kids with similar interests to Jeff. 

"I hope you can feel a little better knowing that in your way, and that of your son, a part of him still lives within me 
and for that I'm very proud," he writes.

The letter ended with:

"I would love to hear back from you again and hopefully meet — our door is also open. Sincerely yours, grateful recipient and family."

Then he wrote again.

"This heart is working real good. I have most of my outdoor home projects done, garden planted, leaves and twigs raked and burnt, one boat in water ready to fish come opening day at bass season."

This letter ended with love.

"I better stop. I'm going to cry. Love recipient and family. P.S. hope to talk again."

Loder decided to use social media to try to connect. Although initially she wrestled with making such personal letters public, Loder felt if the outcome results in finally meeting, it was worth it.

"If he genuinely wants to meet, it won't matter. He'll probably forgive me," Loder says.

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by Halifax network producer Katy Parsons.