By Tim Leeds
Bob and Kathy Doney have met the man their son Chad's heart saved.
The Doneys traveled to Blaine, Wash., last week to meet Doug Fenton, who received Chad's heart in a transplant operation in 1998, after Chad died of a gunshot wound.
"The biggest sensation was being able to put your ear against his chest and hear Chad's heart," Bob said.
The families had been communicating through Life Center Northwest in Bellevue, Wash., which coordinates organ transplants. Kathy said she felt as if she'd known Doug a long time, although last week was the first time they had met face to face.
"It wasn't like meeting him for the first time," she said.
"He's really a down-to-earth gentleman," Bob said. The Fentons are just like members of the family, he added.
Several members of the Doneys' family went with them to meet the Fentons. Kathy's parents, Bun and Morris Toldness; Bob's mom, Vera Doney; Kathy's sister-in-law, Kelly Toldness; and Kelly's daughter, Katie Toldness, all went with Bob and Kathy to meet Doug and his wife, Jacky, and members of their family.
The trip included visiting the Peace Arch Park on the Canadian border near Blaine, and going out on the ocean for a cruise and dinner in a boat belonging to a friend of Doug's. But the best part was just meeting the man their son's heart had saved.
Kathy said meeting him took away any questions the Doneys had about how well he was doing, how the heart was performing for him. He had congestive heart failure and his doctors had told him he would die without a transplant.
"You'd never know he'd been sick. His color is good, he looks like a young man," she said. "He, as he says, has his life back."
Bob said the physical match between Chad and Doug was amazing, especially because they had a fairly rare blood type, B positive. Other characteristics, including tissue type and body size, must also match.
"You could actually call it a miracle," Kathy said.
Bob said Doug is actually about 25 pounds heavier than a perfect match for Chad's heart would be, but Doug's doctors say the heart is more than handling the job.
"The heart is really performing," he said, "performing as much for two guys of Doug's size, they say."
Doug still has to have checkups and take anti-rejection drugs, but the checkups have dropped from every month to twice a year, and the amount of the drugs he needs has also dropped.
Doug was a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force until his heart problems grounded him. Bob said Doug is trying to get his pilot's license back now that he has a new heart. He added that Doug and a friend are having a plane built for them out of a kit, and that he wouldn't be surprised if Doug flies it out to Havre.
The Doneys urge everyone to register as organ donors and discuss that choice with their families. The demand for organs is very high, with people dying because suitable matches cannot be found. Bob said the reward is great.
"It's a good feeling that somebody really benefits, to go on with life," he said.
Kathy added that it gave her son a chance to continue living. "It is the only way they can live on," she said. "A lot of people don't have the chance to do that. I think we were very fortunate that way."
Doug gave the Doneys a parting gift when they left to return to Havre.
They now have the heart-shaped pillow he held during the surgery to help control pain spasms and coughing, signed by the nursing staff from the operation.