Eric and Heser Family
Eric and Heser Family. Photo by Kurt Wilson for The Missoulian

After a busy summer full of celebrating the Gift of Life, LifeCenter Northwest finished our final Donation Celebrations of 2015 in Billings and Missoula, MT this past weekend. These events, of which there are five  in total, are held throughout Alaska, Montana, and Washington and bring together recipients, donor families, and hospital partners to share stories, meet new people, and celebrate the life-saving gift of organ, eye and tissue donation.

These celebrations are a wonderful time of reflection and appreciation, for the lives lived and those saved through transplantation. The theme of this year’s celebrations was “we are all family”, and that message was especially resilient in Missoula. Before the event, two families met for the first time, yet it felt like they had known each other forever.

Their connection is Josh Heser. Josh became an organ donor in 2013 after an motor vehicle accident and was able to save and heal the lives of over 100 people through organ, eye, and tissue donation – including Erik Gelhar. Erik received Josh’s heart after he was diagnosed at 22 with heart failure, a condition that brought his young, active life to a halt.

Though Erik suffered a stroke and went into a coma during his transplant surgery after intensive rehabilitation and determination, he recovered. He was eager to send a letter to his donor family to thank them for the gift they generously gave him, and the life his transplant restored. The Heser’s were also keen on contacting Josh’s recipients, so when they received the news that Erik had written a letter they warmly welcomed the correspondence. The meeting was arranged with help from LifeCenter Northwest and UW Medicine.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day all summer,” said Erik.

“I was really nervous and I don’t really know why. I really wanted him to be a good guy, and he is,” said Anne, Josh’s sister. “I can see Josh and him would have been buds.”

During the Donation Celebration, Erik was able to speak to the attendees about his experience as an organ recipient, and the moment was all the more meaningful having the Heser family present to share the moment. .