PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - FOX 12 is sharing the story of two families connected by one heart, after a young man passed away unexpectedly in the fall and donated his organs to others.
Just this past weekend his mom met the Corbett man who received her son's heart.
FOX 12 learned Duane Richards and Jacob Ash have a lot in common, including a love of nature and adventures, hiking, biking and snowboarding, similarities discovered in recent months of correspondence between the families. But it wasn’t until this past weekend that Duane met Jake’s family because of their biggest commonality: the same heart.
"I feel like it’s such a good fit like there couldn’t be a better person than Duane for this," Jake's mom Danielle Hillman said. "He’s just so kind, he’s just really a lot like Jake."
Last fall, Jake died unexpectedly at home alone in Spokane after choking on a piece of hard candy. Doctors did what they could but he didn’t have any brain activity; his organs still strong enough to fulfill his wish to be a donor.
At the same time, Duane from Corbett was at OHSU, and after years of heart issues, doctors told him the only option left was a transplant.
"Because of Jacob, he’ll be able to walk his daughter down the aisle when she gets married, he’ll be able to be around for his son, all the milestones that we would have missed if he hadn’t been here," his wife Michelle Richards said.
It’s somewhat rare that organ recipients and donor’s families would meet but shortly after the transplant, Jake’s parents reached out to the Richards.
"I feel that you know Jake’s a part of Duane," Danielle said.
"In getting to know them we also are kind of part of their tragedy. They lost their son. It’s our blessing but it’s their tragedy that made this all happen," Michelle said.
When they were finally able to meet in-person this past weekend, they did it at Jake’s old house during what would have been his 32nd birthday. His family took turns listening to his heartbeat.
"I'm not keeping this heart alive just for me, I'm keeping it alive for them also," Duane said.
Honoring one life lost and one life saved, in what will forever tie both families together.
"I'm really glad we can be friends. I feel like it’s gonna be a lifelong friendship," Danielle said.
"We see it as a responsibility to go on and live a really good life for Jacob and for his parents," Michelle said.
Jake donated other organs too. In total, he saved four lives and two people’s vision. His parents have reached out to those people but this is the first recipient family they met in person.
His family’s also been using the #JustforJake to encourage people to do different acts of kindness and enjoy adventures in his honor. You can find information on organ donation here: www.donatelifenw.org/content/register-now.