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Transplant Recipients Share Special Thanksgiving Meal With Donor's Family

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- "You think about him every day," said Mary Grace Hensell of Fox Chapel as she held on to a picture of her son.

Brian Hensell, 24, died five years ago in a car accident in North Versailles.

"What I tell people is that it's like having your heart ripped out without any anesthesia," Mary Grace said.

Mary Grace is a nurse who, for years, worked with a surgeon who performs heart transplants. Ironically, days before his death, Brian told his mom about a choice he made.

"He said, 'Well, you know mom, I'm an organ donor.'"

So after Brian passed away, John Chomko's life was saved when he received Brian's liver.

"It was a flood of emotion and tears," said Chomko. "I mean this is tough stuff, emotionally because you're looking at someone's family that saved your life."

Brian McTiernan's life was saved too when he received Brian's kidney and pancreas.

"I'm taking very good care of the part of Brian that Mary Grace gave to me, and as I say, I was very lucky," said McTiernan.

Neither man had ever met Brian's family until Monday night in Shadyside at a Thanksgiving dinner organized by CORE, the Center for Organ Recovery and Education.

There were tears and hugs as Brian's family met the men and their families. Brian's mom gave the men photo books, so they could know more about her son.

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And there was another special guest, someone Brian's family had already met: Melvin Protzman whose life was also saved when he received Brian's heart.

When it came time for everyone to explain what they're thankful for, it got pretty emotional.

"My family is here to share and to know that he lives on and we're a part of Thanksgiving and to thank Brian for all of this," said Mary Grace.

With a voice shaking with emotion, Protzman delivered a heartfelt thank you to Brian's family for saving his life, ending with: "I thank you for this. My gift to you and your family is you can listen to Brian's heart anytime you want."

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