Transplant recipient surprises grieving father with stethoscope to hear late son’s heartbeat

A grieving father listened to his son’s beating heart with a stethoscope two years after his death in a car accident.

Jordan Spahn, 47, lost his 21-year-old son Matthew in October 2018 when he was hit by a car. In the hospital, the Brenham, Texas family discovered that Matthew was a registered organ donor, a decision that saved the life of five people who received seven of his organs after death.

“Having someone get his heart was important to me — he was a state-qualified runner and I thought someone deserved the heart of a champion,” the father of eight tells Yahoo Lifestyle, adding that less than four months after Matthew passed, Spahn lost his 24-year-old son Jonah in the same fashion.  

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First Dual Hand Transplant
Zion Harvey, 8, of Baltimore, seems to marvel at his new right hand while in his hospital bed on July 27, 2015. Zion lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease when he was 2, but had a double hand transplant at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
Pattie Ray holds a book so her son, Zion Harvey, 8, can read it while in his hospital bed on July 27, 2015, at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Zion had a double hand transplant in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant ever performed. The Baltimore boy lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease when he was as a two-year-old. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Baltimore, waves to the audience with his new right hand as his mother, Pattie Ray, leads him onstage to the at a news conference at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Zion, who lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease as a two-year-old, had a double hand transplant at CHOP in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. In the background is his step-father Kevon Gant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
Zion Harvey, 8, of Baltimore, shows off his new hands after transplant surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on July 27, 2015. Zion lost his hands and feet to a bacterial disease when he was 2, but had a double hand transplant in Philadelphia in early July 2015, the first pediatric double hand transplant. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS via Getty Images)
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Matthew’s heart went to a League City woman named Kristi Richard Russ, 55, who had suffered a massive heart attack in 2016 and had chronic heart failure. Kristi’s heart was functioning at only 10 percent and she was on a waiting list for a transplant, however four different hearts were rejected due to their size and health.  

“One night, I was watching TV with my husband Ron and heard a voice that wasn’t his, saying, ‘Hold on for 10 more days,’” Kristi tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I think it was my father who passed away in 2013.”

Ten days later on October 19 (two days after Matthew’s death), Kristi received word that his heart was available. To protect the privacy of both parties, they were advised to wait one year before voluntarily contacting each other.

“Sometimes the recipients have survivor’s guilt knowing that someone had to die for them to live,” explains Spahn. “But we were more than willing to talk to someone who received Matthew’s organs.” A musician, he later learned, received one of Matthew’s lungs and can now exercise and continuing playing music. 

All Kristi knew was that her heart came from a healthy man in his twenties. She wanted to speak to Matthew’s family, but only after she knew that her body wouldn’t reject his heart, an outcome she felt would be traumatizing. Eventually, Kristi reached out in a letter.

On February 8th, after the families had communicated several times, Kristi, Ron, Spahn and his fiancée Summer Mossbarger met at a Brenham restaurant. “I teared up and when we hugged, I could feel Matthew in that embrace,” says Spahn. He didn’t know that Kristi had a stethoscope tucked inside her purse.

During their 5-hour visit, Kristi gifted Spahn with a stuffed animal from Build-A-Bear that was equipped with a recording of Matthew’s heartbeat. “Then I pulled out the stethoscope and said, ‘Who wants to hear first?’” she says.

The recording captures Spahn listening intently. “Clear as day,” says Kristi as she comforts him. “So strong!” says Spahn.

“When it’s quiet at night, you can hear it without the stethoscope,” she says.

“He’s out there, running laps,” remarked the dad.

Kristi has noticed unexplainable changes since the transplant. “I used to hate Chinese food and now I can’t eat enough of it,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle of Matthew’s beloved cuisine. “I also used to be quiet about things that hurt me, but not anymore.” Spahn's fiancée Summer Mossbarger tells Yahoo Lifestyle that Matthew also “held nothing back.”

“When I talk to Kristi, it’s like talking to Matt,” says Mossbarger. “Somethings we don’t have to say anything to each other, because it’s already understood. The bond we all share now is just crazy and amazing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Through faith, Spahn learned that tragedy can lead to goodwill. “When you lose someone, you decide what to do with that — bury yourself in a hole or lift people up,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I refuse to let this tear me down, but use these experiences to become a better father.”

Kristi says that becoming a donor is a vital decision and because she made it herself, Matthew’s heart has the potential to live on someday — even if it’s outside her own body. And she and Mossbarger now call themselves, “Soul sisters.”

“With everything that happened with Matt and Jonah, we all needed this experience — not for closure but for peace,” says Mossbarger. “It’s been a blessing for both families.” 

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