12-year-old's donated heart joins families, lets her memory live
Tears flowed freely. Heartfelt hugs were exchanged. Smiles, sobs and wet eyes filled the room.
A woman whose son gained a heart and a new chance at life dabbed her eyes on the sleeve of a single mother who made the decision in the anguished hours of a horrible accident to donate the organs of her 12-year-old daughter so that others could live.
“Just for my daughter to live on is definitely a blessing,” said Valerie Sinclair when she regained her composure Monday evening after Dalton Igoe lifted his shirt and handed her a stethoscope so that she could listen to the heart of her daughter, Da'jeianna Smith, beating inside his chest.
Igoe, 17, a senior at Altoona Area High School, and his family met Sinclair, 34, a single mother from Elkhart, Ind., and two of Da'jeianna's siblings for the first time a few minutes earlier inside a small social room at the Sheraton Station Square where the Center for Organ Recovery and Education will hold its 2014 Donation Collaborative on Tuesday.
“I give you all the hugs I owe you,” said Igoe, tightly embracing Sinclair while his mother, Dawn Igoe, 49, hugged Smith's sister, D'ahjahnay Ware, 10, and brother, Dujuan Ware, 9.
“This means so much. ... If I had wings, I would fly,” said Igoe who was born with six congenital heart defects and had his first open heart surgery in Children's Hospital when he was 8 days old.
Despite three more heart surgeries by the time he was 5, Igoe's condition worsened and he was placed on a transplant waiting list in April 2012, two months after his 15th birthday.
“I couldn't run or play or keep up with my friends,” he said.
Da'jeianna tried to squeeze every moment out of her short life, her mother said.
“She was really active. She was into sports, very athletic. She was on the high honor roll. She was a wonderful daughter,” Sinclair said. Her daughter's smiling face is tattooed on her upper chest and shoulder.
Da'jeianna, a fifth-grader at Woodland Elementary School, about 15 miles east of South Bend, was walking home from the school playground when she was struck by a pickup on May 16, 2012. She died of head injuries the next morning.
Twenty-four hours later, CORE was on the phone with Dawn Igoe.
“My sister was putting an amazing fundraising benefit together for Dalton when we got the call,” Dawn Igoe said.
“I was crying on my way to the hospital,” Dalton Igoe remembered with a laugh. “I was upset I was going to miss my party. That's the first thing that popped into my head.”
He was in the operating room at 2:30 the next morning.
Sinclair said she sent cards with Da'jeianna's picture to all those who received her organs — someone got a kidney; another her pancreas; a third got one eye and a fourth the other eye.
She and Dawn Igoe reached out to each other, under CORE's guidance.
“We finally get to meet you after all our letters and texts and calls,” Dawn Igoe told Sinclair. “I thank you. That was a pretty amazing decision you made that day.”
“I wanted her heart to live on,” replied Sinclair as she gave T-shirts — with a picture of Da'jeianna and Dalton Igoe inside a heart with the words “Two Souls” on top and “One Heart” on the bottom — to Dawn and Dalton Igoe as well as his father, Scott, 50, sister Delaney, 14, and brother Dylan, 11.
Igoe's life has changed immensely since receiving his transplant. He now plays center field for his high school baseball team and bass drum and cymbals in the marching band.
He gained 60 pounds and grew 10 inches, so fast a growth spurt that he faces surgery in November for scoliosis, which, if not corrected, could reduce the amount of space inside his chest, making it difficult for his lungs to function properly.
Igoe believes he received more than just the heart of Da'jeianna, who he said loved to eat candy and drink coffee and hated fish.
“Before the transplant, I did not like candy and coffee. Now I do,” Igoe said. “Before the transplant, I loved seafood. Now I don't like it. I don't know why.”
Michael Hasch is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7820 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.