Heart Transplant Recipient Meets Her Donor’s Family

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A young Minnesota woman is sharing her story of how an organ donor saved her life.

She had the chance to thank the donor’s family in an emotional meeting last weekend.

Alyssa Sandeen, 27, was diagnosed with heart disease and had a heart transplant when she was 8 years old.

Her heart was giving out and she needed a new one by the time she was 23. She spent nine months living in the hospital, in pain, waiting.

“I said, ‘I can’t do this, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this anymore,’ because of basically living in hell every single day,” Sandeen said.

But on June 26, 2013, she got a call she will never forget.

hfr heart recipient pkg revised use this version 083017 0830t121512 mov 1 Heart Transplant Recipient Meets Her Donors Family

Alyssa Sandeen and Kate Leekley (credit: CBS)

“I’m like ‘I just got offered a heart,’ and that was the best day ever,” Sandeen said.

She had the heart transplant the very next day.

Sandeen never knew who gave her a heart for years, until she received a Facebook message last month from the mother of a young woman named Kate Leekley.

“I just started bawling,” Sandeen said.

Leekley was 20 years old when she died in 2013 after being hit and killed by a drunk driver.

She elected to be an organ donor at age 16. Her heart saved Sandeen’s life.

She decided to meet the Leekley family. They made the drive to Illinois over the weekend, and Leekley’s parents and sister were waiting when they arrived.

Finally, two families bonded by a special gift met face to face.

“Very overwhelming,” Sandeen said. “Just all of these emotions.”

hfr heart recipient pkg revised use this version 083017 0830t121512 mov Heart Transplant Recipient Meets Her Donors Family

Alyssa Sandeen meets Jennifer Leekley (credit: CBS)

Sandeen and Leekley’s mother, Jennifer Leekley, hugged and cried. Sandeen came with her own gift: a stuffed teddy bear for Jennifer Leekley to keep. It played a special sound.

“We made a recording of my heartbeat with a stethoscope, and we decided to give that to her so she could keep her daughter’s heart with her,” Sandeen said.

“Just to hear her heartbeat, I can’t explain it,” Jennifer Leekley said.

The families did a walk for Mothers Against Drunk Driving together before they went their separate ways.

Sandeen says she believes Kate was her guardian angel.

“I feel connected to her so much, it’s just amazing,” she said.

The two families plan to get together once a year.

More from Kate Raddatz

More From WCCO | CBS Minnesota

Good Question
Best Of Minnesota
Excellent Educator

Watch & Listen LIVE