British Columbia

Heart transplant recipient meets donor family after 17 years of anonymous correspondence

After B.C. Transplant changed their regulations around contact between donor and recipient families, heart transplant recipient Carrie Jung and the family of her organ donor, Darcy Doherty, were able to meet.

'I just wanted to know the person who had received my son’s heart,' says Marie Doherty

Heart transplant recipient Carrie Jung with her donor Darcy Doherty's mom Marie and brother Daryl. They met in February 2020 after 17 years of anonymous correspondence. (B.C. Transplant)

For 17 years, Marie Doherty and Carrie Jung shared stories about each other and their families, but neither knew the other's name.

Linked by a donated heart that Jung, of Vancouver, received from Doherty's son, the pair had to remain anonymous due to B.C. Transplant rules — until a recent change in the rules allowed them to meet in person for the first time.

In life, Marie Doherty's son Darcy was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who was always willing to lend a hand. 

So when it came time to decide whether or not to donate the 37-year-old's organs following his death from a brain aneurysm in June 2002, she did not hesitate.

"They asked his wife if she would give the organs, and she looked at me and she asked would I be OK with that, and I said 'of course I would,'" Doherty recalled, speaking with host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast. 

At the same time, Carrie Jung had already gone to bed when she received a phone call telling her a new heart was available. 

Jung, who was also 37, had been on the transplant list for seven years. She had been diagnosed with heart failure in December 1995, and had spent the years since trying to live and work as much as possible while holding out hope for a donor.

"As soon as the phone rang, I knew. I just knew that it was the hospital calling and I just felt a sense of calm. I thought to myself, 'this is it. When I pick up the phone, this is it. My life is going to change,'" Jung said. 

Heart transplants must be conducted within hours, and Jung successfully received Darcy Doherty's heart as soon as it was ready. 

'I wanted to say thank you for this gift'

After months of recovery, and as soon as she was well enough to, Jung wrote a card of thanks to her donor's family through B.C. Transplant. At the time, the agency's regulations only allowed for anonymized correspondence between the recipient and donor families. 

"I wanted to say thank you for this gift and I wanted to let them know I was doing well. That was my reason. To let them know I was doing well with my new heart," said Jung. 

But one card turned into 17 years of correspondence between the two women. Marie Doherty said they talked about "whatever she had in her family that was exciting and whatever I did with my family."

"I just wanted to know the person who had received my son's heart," she said.

Marie Doherty embraces Carrie Jung, the woman who received her son's heart through a transplant. (B.C. Transplant)

When B.C. Transplant changed its rules in November 2019 to allow for more direct contact if consented to between donors, recipients and their families, Jung and Doherty got to meet in person for the first time in February.

Jung said it was like a "homecoming."

"Over the 17½ years we had been corresponding, I had a really strong sense of who Marie was and I had a picture in my mind of what she would look like," Jung said.

"And in fact, when I met her, Marie looked exactly the way I had pictured her."

Daryl Doherty listens to the heartbeat of Carrie Jung, who received his brother's heart in a transplant following his death. (B.C. Transplant)

'He's finally come home'

Jung also got to meet Darcy's brother Daryl, "family members I had heard about all along but had never met in person."

For Doherty, it was like she had known Jung for a very long time. 

"[It was like] he'd finally come home," she said of her late son, her voice breaking.

Jung says anyone thinking of donating their loved ones organs should not hesitate.

"The decision you make will greatly impact many lives, not just the lives of the donor family and the recipient family but also by extension, all of their social circles," she said. 

"It's perhaps one of the most altruistic things someone can do."

Listen to the segment on CBC's On The Coast:

After B.C. Transplant changed their regulations around contact between donor and recipient families, heart transplant recipient Carrie Jung and the family of her organ donor, Darcy Doherty, were able to meet. 8:57

With files from On The Coast

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