Family Life

Woman walked up the aisle by man who received her father's heart donation

A bittersweet ending to a story over a decade in the making. 

Twelve years ago, Jeni Stepien's father was shot and killed in robbery gone wrong. The family made the difficult decision to donate his organs, and that decision lead to a stranger walking Jeni down the aisle on her wedding day. 

That stranger was Arthur Thomas, who has her father's heart. 

Micheal Stepien's organs had been donated through a centre that allowed recipients to contact the donor's family. Eternally grateful for his new heart, Arthur contacted the family to thank them. 

The father-of-four had been on death's door just days before receiving the transplant. 

“In order to get to the top of the transplant list, you have to be really hurting,” he told The New York Times. “Once I had my transplant, I, of course, decided I would write a thank-you to the family.”

Arthur originally kept in contact with Michael's widow, Bernice, swapping birthday cards, flowers and even parenting tips. 

So when 33-year-old Jeni got engaged, her first thought was about the last living piece fo her father. 

“One of my first thoughts in that following week was, ‘Who will walk me down the aisle?’ ” she said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, it would be so incredible to have a physical piece of my father there.’ ”

Jeni's fiance encouraged her to write Arthur a letter asking him if he would have the honour. The retired college advisor, consulted with his daughter first, who said it was a lovely idea. 

The day before the wedding they met for the first time, and Arthur offered his wrist to Jeni so she could feel her father's heart beating. 

"I thought that would be the best way for her to feel close to her dad,” he said. “That’s her father’s heart beating.”

The after an emotional ceremony, the two families have agreed to stay in touch. 

“I felt wonderful about bringing her dad’s heart to Pittsburgh,” Arthur revealed. “If I had to, I would’ve walked.”

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