Eric and Heser Family
Erik (center) with his donor Josh’s family members

Erik Gelhar had always lived a very active life. He spent nearly all his free time in the great outdoors and had a successful career working as an engineer on oil tankers.  Suddenly, at just 22 years old, his health began to take a turn for the worse.  He began to notice he was constantly out of breath and decided it was time to see a doctor. Soon after his visit, the young, natural athlete was diagnosed with heart failure.

In just a few short years he went from hiking and skiing to sweating and wheezing while climbing a flight of stairs. Shortly after his diagnosis he had to undergo a drastic open heart surgery to implant a partial mechanical heart.  Being placed on the transplant waiting list for a new heart gave him hope initially, but as the months turned into years Erik began to lose sight of his simple goal of living past his twenties.

After three years of waiting the fateful call finally came. Though his transplant became a reality, he suffered a stroke during surgery which increased his recovery time significantly. Today, Erik is thankful for his second chance at life, which provided him the opportunity to bring another life into the world. As a new father, he thanks his donor every day for his gift of life and the chance to share it with his daughter.

Last September, at the LifeCenter Northwest Donation Celebration in Missoula, Erik met the family of the man with whom he owes his life-Benefis donor Joshua Heser, who passed away from injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident near his home in Lewistown. During their time together they spoke about the donation experience from both ends of the spectrum, and discovered many common interests between Erik and Josh.

“I can see Josh and him would have been buds,” said Josh’s sister Anne.