Donor's mother meets organ recipient 20 years after surgery

By: Sonia Moghe, Associated Press
By: Sonia Moghe, Associated Press

Dallas, TX -- In the middle of a bustling airport lobby, Debra King embraced someone she had never met before and listened to her heart.

The heart King heard was inside Michelle Mullins but once belonged to King's daughter, Radina Mundo.

"I could hear it," King said Thursday, her face bathed in tears. "My daughter lives again."

King and Mullins were united at Dallas Love Field with the help of Southwest Transplant Alliance, a group that helps sign up donors and find organs for those in need.

Mundo died in 1986 at age 14 of a brain aneurysm. King decided to donate Mundo's liver, kidney, pancreas and heart because she felt compelled to do so, even though she had never talked about organ donation with Mundo.

The day after her death, Mundo's heart was transported to Virginia and put in Mullins, a then-20-year-old woman, who has been trying to locate her donor's family ever since.

King, of Mesquite, said she had always wanted to know more about who received Mundo's organs, but hospitals would not give out that information.

"When I had my transplant it was experimental," said Mullins, 40, of Pilot, Va. "Everyone was told you do not ask questions. I just knew that whoever my heart came from was from the Dallas area."

Before the transplant, Mullins was an active student at Radford University in Virginia who juggled classes and part-time work to put herself through school.

She felt sick for months, and after taking final exams she collapsed. She was diagnosed with a virus that weakens heart muscle and needed a transplant to survive. After just two weeks on a waiting list, Mullins was able get a heart transplant.

Clyde Yancy, a professor of cardiology at Southwestern Medical School in Dallas who has conducted about 300 heart transplant surgeries, said the fact that Mullins has survived for 20 years is a testament to improvements in heart transplantation.

"It reassures patients waiting for a transplant that there's hope; it lets the donor families know that there's a real value to donating an organ," Yancy said.

Back at the airport, Tom Mullins, Michelle's husband, brought a stethoscope so the King family could listen to its daughter's heart.

"I think they found their own way," he said as Debra King pressed her ear to Mullins' chest.

David King, Mundo's stepfather, said hearing Mundo's heartbeat again reconnected their family.

Mullins, too, said she felt a connection. "I really do have a Texas heart."

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