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North Huntingdon, Georgia families connected by donated heart

Patrick Varine
| Monday, Sept. 5, 2016, 10:51 p.m.
Betsy Frye, left, listens to her son Lance Frye as he laughs and recounts some of his experiences over the last few months. The Fryes are joined by Janece Risty, center right, and Julie Risty, far right.
Phil Wilson | For the Tribune-Review
Betsy Frye, left, listens to her son Lance Frye as he laughs and recounts some of his experiences over the last few months. The Fryes are joined by Janece Risty, center right, and Julie Risty, far right.
Tyler G. Liebl
Tyler G. Liebl

Lance Frye has been a part of several rare sets of circumstances.

He was born with a rare congenital defect called hypoplastic right-heart syndrome, which refers to underdevelopment of the right side of the heart.

He survived three open-heart surgeries before his 4th birthday.

Last summer, he was matched with a heart donor after being on the transplant list for just over four months.

And Friday, the 19-year-old North Huntingdon resident had the rare occasion to meet the family whose son provided that heart.

“These are tears of joy,” said Janece Risty, whose son, Tyler Liebl, was the donor.

Liebl, 16, of Newnan, Ga., died July 30, 2014, after complications following a ruptured blood vessel and stroke. Liebl was a passionate snowboarder, a member of Snowboarders and Skiers for Christ and the USA Skier and Snowboarder Association.

Frye said his family received a letter from Risty a few months after his transplant.

“Within two weeks, we had sent our own letters,” Frye said. “We both signed the consent papers, and we had our first phone conversation this past July.”

Frye and his family met with Risty, Liebl's grandmother, Julie, and family friends at Christ United Methodist Church in White Oak. They talked about school — Frye attends Westmoreland County Community College — and some of his many medical experiences.

Frye's mother, Betsy, said the family has strived to provide him with as many opportunities as possible.

“He was sick a lot, and he's had multiple hospital stays over the years,” she said. “He still tried to play soccer, and he did play for the Norwin Soccer Club.”

Today, Lance Frye is a coach for the PAL's Play Ball Adaptive Baseball League, which provides athletic opportunities for special needs children.

“He used to play in the league as well and then decided to become a coach for the kids,” his mother said.

Risty said she is happy her son's spirit will live on through Lance.

“It's pretty incredible to be able to connect with him and share Tyler's legacy,” she said.

Frye said it was hard to put into words how special he felt in meeting the Ristys.

“I'm very honored,” he said. “It makes you feel very grateful.”

Tyler's grandmother said she hopes to someday receive an invitation to Lance's wedding.

Betsy Frye just laughed.

“You're family now,” she said. “You're stuck with us.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862 or

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