Cedars-Sinai Blog

Transplant Recipient Is Part of the Donor's Family Now

Dylan's parents, Dan and Dana Stump, with the recipient of Dylan's heart, Erika Heranic, and her husband, Jeff.

On March 25, 2018, Erika Heranic met the family of Dylan Stump, the 19-year-old college student whose tragic death in a car crash led to Erika's lifesaving heart transplant. It was an encounter 2 years in the making.

Erika's journey

Erika, a middle school teacher, had a heart attack in March 2016. A few months later she went into cardiac arrest and was diagnosed with heart failure, beginning her journey to a new heart.

In October 2016 she arrived at Cedars-Sinai, where she underwent surgery at the Smidt Heart Institute to be implanted with a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. The device would help her gain strength and prepare her for a heart transplant.

Just 6 months later, she got the call—there was a heart available.

Read: 2 Heart Transplants Can't Keep Joelle Down

Beauty from ashes

About 6 months after her transplant, Erika received a letter from her donor's parents. Dan and Dana Stump wanted to wish her well.

Erika wrote back immediately:

I promise to take good care of him. I promise to honor him with everything I do, especially for others. I wish you peace, love, and faith in knowing that Dylan has allowed me to live again. He is my hero.
"When we lost Dylan, having his heart transplanted was our biggest hope."

Erika and Dana became Facebook friends and began communicating regularly. They made plans to meet and picked a spot between their homes: The Old Spaghetti Factory in Fullerton.

An emotional meeting

On March 25, 2018, Erika and Jeff arrived to find Dana and Dan waiting outside the restaurant.

"We knew it was going to be emotional," Erika recalls. "I couldn’t fathom what they had been through. My husband and I were afraid of what to do or say. I was worried they wouldn't like me, or might even hold a grudge or be angry because I am the one living."

Her fears dissolved once she saw the Stumps and found only calm and compassion.

Read: Bone Marrow Transplant Saves a Life, Starts a New Friendship

"Dana was waiting with open arms—we couldn't wait to hug," Erika says. "It felt right. We were filled with emotions and became teary-eyed with joy, sadness, and relief."

The families spent 4 hours talking about Dylan and how their lives had changed over the last year. Dana brought a stethoscope to listen to Dylan's heart beating in Erika's chest.

"When we lost Dylan, having his heart transplanted was our biggest hope," says Dana. "We were praying and hoping that we would get to meet his heart recipient."

"This is just the beginning—she's part of our family now."

Spreading the message

The Stumps' decision to donate their son's organs resulted in 5 successful transplants; they've made it their mission to promote organ donation.

"It's beauty from ashes," says Dana.

Dana is now an ambassador for OneLegacy, a nonprofit dedicated to spreading the message about the importance of organ donation. She travels around the LA area to speak about Dylan.

"He was very special," says Dana. "If he knew how many lives he has saved, he'd say it was all worth it. That's just the kind of person he was."

Read: Transplant Saves Bishop at the Heart of His Community

As the one-year anniversary of her transplant approaches, Erika is slowly returning to hobbies she had to give up while she was sick, like exercising and cooking. She's also looking forward to her daughter's wedding this summer.

She'll be joining the Stump family at the Donate Life Run/Walk on April 28 on the #HugsForDylan team. "I'm excited to see what we can do together to spread awareness about organ donation," says Dana.

"We're thankful to have Erika in our lives and we're looking forward to getting to know her better. This is just the beginning—she's part of our family now."