Sometimes I think about what it would be like if you hadn't made the selfless decision you did. Sometimes I think about what it would be like if you hadn't introduced yourself to us last fall. Sometimes I wonder if our family would be the same without you, but I am really not sure we'd be okay if it weren't for you. We are forever grateful and no words will ever be able to explain that.
I remember getting the first call, there was a heart. I was in Connecticut for an Irish-dance competition with friends, it was January. It was absolutely freezing and all I remember was wanting to run all the way back to Pennsylvania, in my wig and poodle socks. The entire ride home was beyond surreal, I wasn't sure whether to cry, just sit there in silence, or act like it was just a normal day. By the time I had gotten to the hospital the doctors were already getting Jillian ready for her surgery. Within the hour, they changed their minds, the heart wasn't a match. My family was devastated, but I remember my mom telling my sisters and I, "It's good they changed their minds, we need a heart that is going to keep Jilli healthy for a very long time." Within the week we had gotten another offer and that's when our life changed. January 25th, 2011, the day that changed not only my life but my entire family's as well. The day we became ever so thankful for an angel.
The entire week after the transplant was honestly the biggest blur to me. I remember seeing Jillian afterward, she seemed like she was never in pain, she always had a contagious smile, but this was different and everyone could see the difference in her. It was like there was this entire new side to her that was visibly different, she was finally out of pain. Although it's tough to see someone so little with so many tubes and drains, I knew because of you, she'd be okay. Exactly two weeks later, Jillian got to come home to us. Her recovery went well and on February 8th, 2011, Jillian was discharged from the hospital.
The next few years, everything we did for Jillian we did with thoughts of our Angel Baby. Every milestone Jillian completed, she completed with a huge piece of your daughter right by her side. I believe that through our Angel Baby Jillian's will for life became even stronger.
I'll always remember my family's first time going to the Organ Donor Dash. It was also really cold this day too, but I was never more ready to run a 5k, let alone my first one. I remember struggling through that thing like there was no tomorrow, but when I crossed that finish line a wave of emotion came over me. I did that for you, for our Angel Baby, for every single moment I spent wondering who you were.
The details of every event for the next four years are hard to remember but there is one specific thing I want to tell you…we never once forgot how thankful we were to have you. Every year on January 25th, no matter what day of the week it was, Jillian got a cake to celebrate her “Heart Day.” This celebrated the day your selfless decision gave her new life. On the cake, there were two candles, always. One for Jillian, and one for our Angel Baby. There was never a time in any of our days that we didn’t think about you at least once.
November 13th, 2015 my dad got a message from you on Facebook. It was a simple message along the lines of, “I hope you and Shannon don’t mind me reaching out to you. Can you guess who I might be?” and knowing my dad, his guesses aren’t always on par. Within the next couple of minutes, you had gotten right to the point and told my dad something we had all been waiting to hear, “Your daughter was given my daughter’s heart. My daughter has been gone almost five years now and I’ve wanted to reach out to you guys.” This is the day you changed our lives forever. My family had finally gotten to put a face and a name to the beautiful Angel Baby we had been praying to for all these years and it was the absolute best feeling in the entire world and most precious face. I remember my parents sitting me down almost a year ago and letting me read the messages between the three of you and believe me when I say I absolutely lost it.
Over the past (almost) year, you have become a huge part of our family and we have never been more thankful to have another member. Jillian has grown into a strong, very sassy, outgoing, charming, beautiful little princess and like my dad said to you, "it’s all because of you.” Words cannot describe the amount of love I have for you, and no actions will ever amount to what I would love to give back to you after what you have done for our family. Through your selfless decision, you gave my sister life and my family hope. I will never be more thankful for another human being than I am for you in my entire life. I know your Angel is not only watching over Jillian but you as well. We love you more than you know, thank you so much for the opportunity you have given our family. Forever and a day.