A Massachusetts man who was in need of a heart transplant found a creative way to thank the family of the teen donor who saved his life.
Robert O’Connor wanted to make sure that Dakota Reid’s family would still feel his presence even after the 16-year-old tragically died in an accident and donated his heart, which saved O’Connor’s life, NBC/CW affiliate WWLP reported.
While he still looks forward to meeting the Reids one day in person, O’Connor decided to send them a special gift until then: a Build-a-Bear stuffed animal with Dakota’s heartbeat inside.
“We feel like we have a part of him with us now. It’s just amazing,” Dakota’s stepmom Stephanie Reid tells PEOPLE of the gift. “Dakota was able to give the ultimate gift of life and we consider him a hero for it. We just wanted to help as many people as we could with the organ donations.”
Adds his dad John Allen Lee Reid: “When I first heard the heartbeat, it took me back to the nights I would lay my head on his chest listening to his heart. The gift reminded me as to why I donated his organs and how much of a hero my son became. The feeling is absolutely beyond [a] description of anything in this world.”
The sweet idea came about after O’Connor spent weeks at Tufts Medical Center in Boston fighting for his life on life support, according to the outlet.
The hospital stay was quite unexpected for the South Hadley resident, as he lived for 10 years with a heart condition called Cardiomyopathy, WWLP reported.
Though the heart muscle disease makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, O’Connor had managed to stay on top of the condition by taking medication.
But one day, things took a turn for the worse and O’Connor was reportedly airlifted from Baystate Medical Center in Springfield to the Boston hospital.
“It was basically, [I was there until] I get a heart… if I get a heart,” O’Connor told WWLP of the 10 uncertain, bedridden weeks in Tufts Medical Center.
O’Connor finally received the news he was hoping for when he learned that Dakota — who died in January 2019, according to his obituary — was a viable donor to give him a heart.
“I got the heart, I got my life back!” O’Connor recalled to WWLP of the big news.
After the successful transplant, O’Connor said he wanted the Reids to know how grateful he was for Dakota’s gift of life, so he bought them the Build-a-Bear, which he dressed in a “Best Dad Ever” shirt and sent to their Virginia home.
“We talked about meeting,” he told WWLP. “Someday in the future, we will meet so they could hear their heart, and I said, hopefully, this will help until we meet.”
In an emotional video posted on Stephanie’s Facebook on Wednesday, she recorded John opening the package and breaking down in tears from the heartfelt surprise.
“The gentleman who received Dakotas heart sent John Allen Lee Reid a build a bear with Dakotas heartbeat! ❤️❤️❤️. Thank you!” she captioned the clip.
Stephanie tells PEOPLE “the gift meant the world” to her and John, who both hope to meet O’Connor and thank him for the “amazing” gesture sometime this year.
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“We definitely plan to meet Bob, hopefully sometime this year. It’s so important for us to meet him,” she says. “I think on that day we will feel some sadness, but mostly happiness for Bob and for Dakota being such a hero.”
With his second chance at life, O’Connor told WWLP that he looks forward to spending time outdoors and being with his family.
“Just being able to get outside, walk, do anything,” he explained. “Go swimming with my granddaughter in my pool. Just getting back to life.”
As for the Reids, they hope sharing Dakota’s story will encourage more people to consider giving the ultimate gift of life.
“Share your life and become an organ donor!” Stephanie urges. “He helped five lives … We hadn’t thought about it much before, but it just made sense and now it means everything to us.”
Adds John, “To give the gift of life is to prolong God’s plan for that recipient. After all, it is nothing short of a miracle from him to see my son Dakota live on through others continuing to do God’s work.”
“I tell folks that it is easy to say no to being a donor until you are on the receiving end to having your life saved,” he continues. “It is a powerful and honorable experience for both the donor and the recipient, and I will do it again, including my own organs.”