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Heart recipient gives donor’s family thanks for gift of life

“Oh my God,” Maria Hernandez said to her daughter, Norma. “I can hear his heartbeat. Can you believe it? He’s happy. It’s unbelievable.”

Hernandez listened to the heartbeat of her son, Jose Hernandez, for the first time in more than five years. But the heart was now in the body of 34-year-old Aolani Glover of Seattle.

“I’m emotionally overwhelmed,” Norma Hernandez said. “I’m happy. I’m sad. I’m excited. I don’t know how to express it but I know my brother is still alive because his heart is still beating.”

Maria Hernandez wiped tears from her eyes and held her daughter’s hand as they listened to the familiar beat.

Jose’s sister described her brother as a fun, outgoing person who loved the outdoors and his family.

“He’s so happy. Listen to how fast it’s beating,” Maria Hernandez said.

A drunk driver in Utah killed Jose Hernandez, 32, on July 23, 2008, a month after he moved from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. Doctors transplanted the heart into Glover soon after.

“I’ve always wanted to meet his family,” Glover said. “Today means the world to me.”

Glover woke up one morning in 2008 and realized something was wrong. She had been training to become a police officer, and was about to take a physical that day.

She went to the hospital, and doctors discovered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection in the right side of her heart.

“I knew I was dying, and that’s a scary feeling,” Glover, who was 28 years old at the time, said.

She spent three months in the University of Washington hospital with a machine pumping blood to her heart. It took 87 days for her to receive the new heart she needed to survive.

“I knew that someone else had to die for me to live, and that’s an incredibly difficult feeling,” she said. “I’m constantly reminded of how lucky I am.”

According to Kate McCullough of Nevada Donor Network, there are more than 120,000 Americans on the waiting list for organs.

“Nevada’s donation rate is 40th in the country,” she said. “A lot of people don’t register to become donors because there are so many myths out there as to how the process works. We want more people to understand what a truly amazing gift it is.”

Glover hugged and cried with Maria and Norma Hernandez as they talked about how their lives had changed since Jose’s death.

“It feels like they’re my family,” Glover said. “It feels like home. His heart works perfectly. He’s always been very strong. I always tell people, all the good stuff comes from Jose.”

Maria Hernandez was in touch with Glover for over three-and-a-half years before they met in person Monday afternoon.

Glover thinks of Jose every time she looks at the chest scar she shows proudly. She said she prayed for Jose’s family every day she was in the hospital.

“If it wasn’t for this gift, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. ” When I look at my scar, I think of Jose.”

Jose Hernandez, a musician who played piano, guitar, bass and was a singer, also had two sons.

Norma Hernandez played the last song her brother wrote before he died. The last picture he took was taken three days before his fatal accident. Maria Hernandez constantly looks at his picture on her cell phone.

“Sometimes I hold it really close to my heart,” she said.

It’s been five years since Glover received Jose’s heart. Though she is unable to become a police officer she volunteers at Life Center Northwest in Washington and is a strong advocate for people to become organ donors.

She said the first six months after the transplant were difficult. She felt weak, the medicine she had to take made her feel sick and she has had 36 biopsies.

“I’m not as strong as I used to be,” Glover said. “But I was strong throughout the process.”

Glover gave Maria and Norma bracelets as they shared laughs and tears during the two-hour meeting.

“I wanted to meet up because I wanted to hear his heartbeat,” Maria said.

Contact reporter Steven Slivka at sslivka@reviewjournal.com. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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