On July 18, 2008, Annette Hernandez received the call that every parent dreads: her 22-year-old son Cody had been in a severe car accident, and he was not going to survive. He was breathing, but already declared brain-dead. Annette recalled that Cody wanted to be an organ donor, and she followed his wishes. As Cody was a young man, she knew that the end of his life could mean life for someone else.

Annette and her daughter Ashley, Cody’s younger sister, spent the following year consumed by grief over their loss. It was just the two of them, and Cody’s absence left a large void in their lives. On July 20, 2009, exactly one year after the transplant team had saved Cody’s heart, they received a phone call: the recipient of the heart, a man named Skip, wanted to reach out to them and let them know what Cody’s heart had done for him.

And there was more: Skip had lost his own son a few years prior, and his son had been a heart donor. He knew more than anyone what Annette and Ashley were going through. And he wanted to connect with them.

Skip and Cody had something significant in common: they both made people feel special and important, like they were the only ones in the room. And that love for others didn’t stop at how they treated people; it came from the heart and influenced everyone around them. As Annette puts it, “Cody’s heart saved Skip’s life, and he saved us right back!”

Skip and Annette became friends, bonding over their loss, and over what they could to do make a positive impact by encouraging others to become organ donors. “I played in a softball scholarship tournament for Cody. It was a memorial tournament for him because he loved the game. Skip would come out there to watch and let Cody’s friends hear Cody’s heart.”

heart donor

Annette and Skip, Cody’s heart recipient

At the time Skip received Cody’s heart he was 70 years old. Skip succumbed to cancer a few years later, but not before helping Annette and Ashley through the most challenging time of their lives. “Cody was never embarrassed to tell people he loved them. He loved to be around people. And Skip kept that love alive even longer.”

Today Annette is an advocate for organ donation, and often works at concerts and other events to help sign people up to be organ donors. “If we can save just one person, and that person can be a donor, we can save each other,” she says. The relationship she had with her son’s heart recipient is somewhat unique, but she hopes that it will inspire others. “They’re saving you right back because a piece of your loved one is still with you.”

To learn more about organ donation, and to become and organ donor, click here.

The featured photo is Annette, Cody, and Ashley