Riding to Hear a Heartbeat

By Jeffrey Stern

Saying goodbye to a loved one might be the most difficult thing in the world. As a parent, losing your child is that much more difficult. Most parents would easily say they’d rather give their own life than watch their child pass away.

One father turned his deep pain into hope for thousands of people and their family’s around the country hoping for an organ transplant to save their lives.

Bill Conner’s daughter, Abigail Conner, lost her life in an unexpected accident last January while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico with her brother. The junior at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, was only 20-years old at the time of her death in a swimming pool. Since she was a registered organ donor, her tissues and organs were saved and given to four men all between the ages of 20-60 looking at death themselves.

In a touching moment, Bill got to listen to Abigail’s heart beat in the man’s chest who’s life she saved in her passing. Instead of flying from Madison, Wisconsin to Ventress, Louisiana, Conner opted to take a long journey, giving him time to think on his way to this special meeting. Starting on May 22nd, Conner road 60 miles per day to make it to the recipient’s home in time for this once in a lifetime occasion.

On Father’s Day, Conner made it to Louisiana to meet Loumonth Jack, Jr., the recipient of his daughter’s heart, nearly six months after the transplant.

Bill Conner and Loumonth Jack Jr embrace. Photo via Donate Life Louisiana.

Bill Conner and Loumonth Jack Jr embrace. Photo via Donate Life Louisiana.

“This is what she would want me to do,” Conner said to CBS News.

In an emotional video captured by Donate Life Louisiana and posted to their Facebook page, Conner is shown embracing Jack and then using a stethoscope to listen to the beat of his daughter’s heart for the first time since her passing. Both men began to cry, surrounded by Jack’s family and news reporters. Jack, only 21-years old, suffered a heart attack that would have taken his own life in January if it was not for Abbey’s heart donation.

“She saved me and I can’t repay her. I wish I could, but I can’t,” Jack said to WAFB of Baton Rouge. “All I can do is send my love to her family.”

Conner’s journey isn’t stopping in Louisiana though, his plans are to ride his bike another 1,200 miles all the way to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida by July 10th. “In honor of my daughter and to help me deal with my own grief, I will be riding my bicycle 2,000+ miles across the country,” Conner wrote on the GoFundMe page he created for his daughter, titled Abbey’s Ride for Life.
“Knowing he’s alive because of Abbey, Abbey is alive inside of him – it’s her heart having him stand up straight,” Conner said. “I was happy for him and his family, and at the same time, I got to reunite with my daughter,” he told CBS. Something many family members never get a chance to do, especially if their loved ones aren’t registered organ donors at the time of their passing.

The Conner Family

The Conner Family

His ultimate goal is to raise awareness for the impact of organ donation for both the recipients and donors. Although because of unfortunate circumstances out of both of their control, Jack and Conner will have an unbreakable, lifelong bond. One person’s life was taken while another’s was saved, ultimately a better situation than the death of two young adults.

As of June 29th, nearly $21,000 of Conner’s $30,000 goal has been raised for Donate Life America.

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