HAVERHILL, Mass. — In a living room filled with family members, the only audible sound was Travis Yell’s heart beating.
“Just to be able to hear his heart again means a lot to me,” Heidi Damiano told the 60-year-old New Hampshire man who received the gift of life after her son died in a tragic accident almost three years ago.
For Damiano, Mother’s Day weekend was a special one.
On Saturday, for the first time since losing Travis, she was close to him once more when she met the man whose life her son saved through organ donation. Travis’ heart beats inside the man’s chest.
“It was a gift like no other,” she said.
“I’m not only lucky that I received a heart but that I received a great heart,” the man told Damiano and her family.
Damiano explained to the man, his wife and his stepdaughter after they arrived at her aunt’s home on Greenville Street, across from her own home, that her very last holiday with her son was Mother’s Day 2014.
That happened to coincide with Travis’ birthday, May 11.
“The last photos I have of him were of him and I together that day,” Damiano said
The meeting Saturday was nearly three years in the making.
Damiano and the recipient of her son’s heart, who asked that he be identified in the newspaper only as “David,” described how his life changed in January 2014 when he suffered a severe heart attack, which he referred to as a “widow maker.”
Damiano recalled receiving a letter from the man several weeks after his lifesaving transplant in which he told her that three years prior to Travis’ death, his wife had lost her son and his girlfriend in a car crash.
“She knows the same loss we felt at losing a child,” Damiano said. “Here, she was about to lose her husband if he didn’t get a heart.”
Travis, 20, died Oct. 20, 2014, from injuries he suffered while walking with his girlfriend near Bentley University in Waltham two days earlier.
The young man attended Crowell and Golden Hill schools, Nettle Middle School and Whittier Regional High School, where he studied in the electrical department and graduated in 2012.
David told Damiano and her family that on the day he suffered a heart attack, he happened to be at his town’s dump, and that other residents who were there noticed he was struggling and called an ambulance.
David said that had he been home in his cellar, or in a place where no one could see him, he would likely have died.
First responders saved his life but his heart weakened as the months passed. Doctors inserted a small pump (a LVAD device) to assist his weak heart, but what he really needed was another heart.
In October 2014, David received a call from Tufts Medical Center in Boston. His transplant coordinator told him he had a donor.
“I was at work and I immediately called my wife to say we needed to pack our bags and head to Boston,” he said.
Amid a flurry of activity, the man was soon rushed into surgery.
“I woke up the next day feeling like I was reborn,” he told Damiano and her family.
Damiano said she had been corresponding with David for the last few years, with the goal of making plans to eventually meet. All of the correspondence was reviewed by the Organ Bank before it was passed on.
Damiano did not reveal much to the man, other than to say his heart donor was her son. She didn’t want the man to know anything about Travis until she could tell him herself.
Damiano learned that the man had made a remarkable recovery since the transplant. David had progressed to hiking six miles at a time, and achieved a goal of hiking to the summit of a local mountain, where he married his wife.
She wrote back to the man earlier this year, telling him she hoped to be able to hear Travis’ heartbeat one more time.
“I asked if we could meet close to Mother’s Day, as it has an extra special meaning to me,” she said.
The meeting Saturday was a chance for Damiano to tell the man all about her son’s life, about how outgoing he was, how many friends he had, and what his dreams were.
Travis would have turned 23 this past Thursday. It was a gift to her to be able to hear her son’s heartbeat once again.
David unbuttoned his shirt and Damiano placed the wand of an electronic “pocket fetal doppler” sound amplification device against his chest.
No one in the room made a sound. Then the powerful beat of Travis’ heart could be heard by all. Damiano smiled and then hugged David. Several family members were brought to tears.
“Travis had a strong heart,” the man told her.
Damiano regularly encourages people she meets to register as an organ donor, telling them it’s a simple thing that can be done at any registry of motor vehicles office, or online at www.registerme.org/ma.
“Travis wasn’t selfish,” Damiano said. “He thought of others and what he could do to help someone.”
“You can also be a living donor,” she added. “You can donate organs such as a kidney, a portion of your liver or pancreas, or a lobe of one lung.”
She said Travis registered as an organ donor at age 16, when he got his driver’s license.
Damiano said her son saved others, too. Travis’ liver went to a man in his 60s, his right kidney and pancreas went to a man in his 30s, and his left kidney went to a woman in her 60s.
“Before he got his license, I had explained to Travis that no one wants to lose someone they love,” said Damiano, 48. “If it means donating an organ to save that person’s life, what more could anyone ever ask for?”
For more information: Newburyport Daily News, www.newburypostnews.com