UW heart transplant patient meets teen donor’s family

Carol Wright spent more than a year on a heart transplant waiting list. 

Diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a transplant was her only hope of survival. 

The wife and mother of four children had everything to live for, but as the days passed, hope passed with it.

“I was just kind of, it is not going to happen. But I hope I can hang on long enough.  I knew I was slowly dying.  I knew that,” Wright said.

On March 6, 2014, a heart became available that was a match for Wright.  

Doctors at UW Hospital performed the heart transplant surgery, but the heart traveled more than 1,000 miles to save Wright’s life.

The donor was Brooke Dawkins, 19, who died in a traffic accident in Orlando, Florida. 

Her family donated Dawkin’s organs, and because of that, not only was Wright’s life saved, three others were saved and sight was restored for two people. 

Dawkins donated her heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and corneas.

The heart transplant saved Wright’s life, but in the months following the surgery she always wondered who had been the giver of the gift.

“It was like, I need to know.  As the months went on I needed to know.  I had the drive to go. I need to tell the family how grateful I am,” Wright said.

Eventually, she sat down and put pen to paper and wrote the Dawkins family a letter. 

The words came easy.

“I think telling it from the heart, you know, really from your soul.”

When Dawkins’ family expressed a desire to meet Wright, she made the flight to Orlando. 

The meeting at the airport was emotional.

“I knew right away, the moment I hugged them.  I’m not kidding. Things changed.  The moment I hugged them, it wasn’t like a welcoming for the first time, but more like a reunion,” Wright said.

She went to the Dawkins home and visited Brooke’s room. 

With a stethoscope, Dawkins’ family had the chance to hear Brooke’s heart beating in Wright’s chest.

“To think about it, that my daughter’s heart is beating in somebody else, and that she’s able to live because of that, it was incredible,” Chris Dawkins, Brooke’s father said.

Following her death, Dawkins’ family established the BROOKESTRONG Foundation to raise awareness and encourage others to register as organ donors.

“I hope that if nothing else that this story gets people to turn to their loved ones and say, please it is important,” Chris Dawkins said.

In Wisconsin, nearly 2,500 people are currently waiting for a life-saving organ donation, and on average, 22 people die each day in this country while waiting for that transplant.

To register as an organ donor, go to  www.Donatelifewisconsin.org.

For more information about the BROOKESTRONG Foundation, visit that organizations website at  http://brookestrong.org/.