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‘Mary’s spirit will always live on, and it’s a beautiful thing’

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Chad Milton knows the spirit of his late wife lives on – he’s even heard proof.

A traffic accident claimed Mary Milton in 2016, shortly after the 43-year-old left their home to go to the gym. Mary was a registered donor, but Chad was skeptical of the process and hesitant, at first. He laid next to her, head on her chest, listening to her heart – which continued to beat strongly.

“Organ donation was something we didn’t agree on,” said Milton, 46, a truck driver from Grand Rapids. “I was a ‘no.’ I was 100 percent against it. It was because I just didn’t trust the process.

Mary, however, had been adamant that the decision to donate her organs was the right thing to do. He ultimately agreed with her wishes and said he was impressed with the respect and care shown throughout the process. He and his family were on hand when her heart was wheeled into a waiting ambulance.

Four years later, Chad Milton heard that heart beating again when he met Philip Acosta, whose life had been saved by Mary’s generous gift.

“To hear that heart again, after four years? It was amazing,” he said.

Acosta said the gift came in the nick of time. He was essentially being kept alive with a heart pump, and wondered, every day, how much time he had left.

“My heart was that bad,” he said. “There was no blood going through my system – and the pump was only temporary.”

Mary’s heart was the miracle Acosta needed. He said he’s recovered fully and has no ongoing health issues.

“I feel great. I don’t even feel like I had a heart transplant, to be honest,” he said.

Milton and Acosta started corresponding about a year after the transplant. Gift of Life Michigan encourages and facilitates communications between organ transplant recipients and donor families, but those communications are kept confidential until both sides decide they are ready. When they ultimately decided to meet, Acosta said he had no idea what he would say.

“What do you say to someone who has lost their wife, and now you have her heart?” he said.

They embraced, and Milton laid his head against Acosta’s chest, hearing the strong heat beating on.

“This is God’s work,” Milton said. “There’s a reason why it all came together the way it came together.”

They communicate regularly now, with Milton frequently sending texts or calling while he is on the road. Acosta said he is forever grateful for the gift; it is not the only reminder he carries of his second chance of life. He also keeps a photo of Chad and Mary and looks at it often.

“I don’t really know her, but I carry her everywhere I go,” Acosta said. “Every time I look at that I thank her and thank God that I’m still living.”

Milton said he hasn’t second-guessed his decision and is proud of Mary’s legacy of generosity and kindness.

“I hope Philip has a healthy life, and I hope that heart continues to beat strong every day for him,” Milton said. “Mary’s spirit will always live on – and it’s a beautiful thing.

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