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The gift of life: Heart, kidney recipients share transplant success, encourage organ donation

Heart, kidney recipients share transplant success, encourage organ donation
Heart, kidney recipients share transplant success, encourage organ donation 03:00

SACRAMENTO -- February 14 marks Valentine's Day. However, many people may not know it is also National Organ Donor Day.

The gift of a heart saved a local man's life. The story behind organ donation, whether from a stranger or a family member, is one of love.

In California alone, more than 20,000 people are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. The state makes up one-fifth of the nation's waiting list.

For Keith Ivy of Roseville, Valentine's Day and the celebration of love are more special now than before.

"I just saw the hearts, the little chocolates in the candy jar there. I just had to have one," Ivy said through laughter.

The heart beating inside his own chest: a gift. When his doctor broke the news in 2009 that he needed a transplant to survive, it came as a shock to the man who was otherwise active, fit and healthy.

"'You just need a heart.' He said it like they sell them at 7-Eleven, you know?" said Ivy.

Luckily, he only had to wait a few months before a heart became available. His transplant surgery on February 24, 2010, both saved and changed him.

"How do you thank somebody for giving you the gift of life? I can't have a bad day. Every day is a true blessing," said Ivy.

He and Sierra Donor Services want to inspire more people to donate, if and when they can.

Outside the SDS West Sacramento office, external affairs director Kyla Aquino Irving showed CBS13 the locks of legacy wall where heart-shaped locks don the names of donors.

"It's all about love in a different way. It's remembering these donor heroes and the beautiful legacy they left with their organs, eyes and tissues," said Irving.

As it turns out, her work and advocacy are inspired by her own story.

"When I was only 15 years old, my kidneys stopped working out of nowhere," said Irving.

In a true act of a mother's love, Aquino's kidney came from the woman, who for the second time, gave her daughter life.

"We were a perfect match. My mom's kidney has allowed me to be a mother," said Irving.

Ivy, too, said he wanted to thank the person who gave him the priceless gift of a heart. Not knowing if it would ever be read, he penned a touching letter to his donor's surviving family, hoping it would reach them.

Months later, he got a call.

"The message said, 'Hello, my name is Patricia. I got your letter today. You have my husband's heart,' " Ivy recalled.

Ivy's donor had died in a motorcycle accident and was an organ donor.

Now, with every heartbeat, his gift means Ivy inherited the time he didn't have.

"In a way, in my life, he's living through me," said Ivy.

Two families are celebrating love this Valentine's Day. For both, it's only possible thanks to organ donation.

For information on how to become an organ donor, sign up easily online.

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