Ten years ago, Jeni Stepien’s father was shot and killed in a robbery when she was just 23. A few short weeks ago, the man who received Michael Stepien’s donated heart walked Jeni down the aisle on her wedding day. It was early August when Stepien, 33, tearfully held Arthur Thomas’ wrist and chest, quietly nodding as he asked her, “Can you feel it?” [1]

Michael Stepien couldn’t physically be there to walk his little girl down the aisle on her wedding there, but his heart was with her, beating strong inside Thomas’ chest.

The Stepien family had stayed in contact with Thomas over the years through letters and phone calls, but when Jeni thought about who should give her away at her wedding, she knew it was the perfect opportunity to meet Thomas in person.

She said:

“I thought he would be the perfect person because he has a piece of my father living within him.” [2]

When she wrote to Thomas, asking if there was any chance he’d be willing to walk her down the aisle, he replied:

“Oh, there’s a big chance.”

The day before the event, Thomas arrived at the at the church just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, having traveled from New Jersey for the Big Day. He took Jeni’s fingers and placed them on his wrist. [1]

“He said, ‘Here, feel my pulse.’ It was so amazing. I could feel his heartbeat – it was so strong.” [2]

The following day, Thomas led Jeni to the alter and Jeni touched Thomas’ chest just before he gave her away.

Thomas had to prepare himself so he wouldn’t be “blubbering” as he walked Jeni to the altar. He said:

“The last 10 years, I watched my children graduate from high school and college and I’m probably going to be able to see them get married. And that same 10 years, Michael’s family went without him.

I had a life to live because of him, and his family did not. It was important for me to do this very small thing for her.”

In 2006, Michael Stepien was on his way home from work when he was shot and killed by a teenager during an attempted robbery in Swissvale, near Pittsburgh.

When Thomas, 72, received Michael’s heart, he was “on death’s door,” he said. He’d been suffering from ventricular tachycardia for about 16 years before the transplant, and by the time he received his new heart, he was in congestive heart failure.

Thomas said of his first letter to the Stepiens:

“I remember telling them how grateful I was for this new lease on life and that I realized the sacrifice they made was extraordinary.”

At the reception, the 2 danced together, and the families discussed spending more time together in the future, when there is more time to get to know each other, and less pressure. [3]

Said Thomas:

“I felt wonderful about bringing her father’s heart to Pittsburgh. If I had to, I would’ve walked.”

Sources:

[1] The Huffington Post

[2] The Washington Post

[3] The New York Times


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Post written byJulie Fidler:
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.