DALLAS - The average life expectancy of someone who receives a heart transplant is roughly 10 years, but it's an average often exceeded as technologies and drugs and treatments improve.
For the extra 14 years one Forney grandfather has been given, he's been trying to find out who gave him such an odd-defying chance.
Melvin Jones is now 67. But when he was 49 he suffered a massive heart attack.
"There was no rhyme to reason why I survived it," he said. "Even all the doctor said I should have been gone when I hit the ground."
There would be nearly four years of heart surgeries and treatments and blood infections battled. And by 2003, he was so frail he could barely walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. But it's also the year the phone call came.
"It still amazes me," he said.
He would receive a donor heart. The transplant was an immediate success alleviating all of the post-heart attack symptoms that were plaguing him.
But then he spent 14 years not knowing who had given him that gift.
"Until the day the good Lord takes me home there is always hope that I would meet them," Jones said. "There's still that chance. And I never gave up on that chance."
The answer was at a little white house on US Highway 259 South, in Diana, Texas, 100 miles away. It's where Christina Rodriguez had filed the letters from Melvin Jones away in a small box.
"He was 37 years old," she said of her late husband Fermin Rodriguez. "He was too young."
Fermin Rodriguez was a Mexican immigrant, a welder, a husband and father of three young children. He'd collapsed at work from a sudden brain aneurysm that doctors said was brought on by untreated high blood pressure.
"That was so hard," Rodriguez recounted.
And faced with moving on with the sudden change in her family's life, she decided it was too difficult, too emotional to consider meeting the person who had received her husband's heart.
Their daughter, now 25-year-old Rosa, was 11 years old when he died.
"Momma was like, 'God has called your daddy home,;" she said recalling the painful day she remembers all too well.
"I began to realize life wasn't going to be the same anymore," said her little sister, 19-year-old Lirio, who was 5 years old at the time of their dad's sudden death.
"She always crying and she always say, 'I didn't know my Daddy,'" Christina said of Lirio, who, as she got older, began to ask more questions about her dad.
"I guess because I wanted to see who had his heart, whose life he saved," Lirio said. "Because growing up without a dad was really hard."
So when transplant coordinators at Baylor Scott & White Health learned that the Rodriguez children wanted to meet the heart transplant recipient, Melvin Jones immediately said yes. And this past Saturday, the Rodriguez and Jones families embraced in an arranged meeting at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
"I've looked forward to this for a long, long time," said Jones as he embraced Christina Rodriguez. "There's not a day goes by that I don't think about y'all. At y'all's worst moment in life you had to make a hard, hard decision and I'm eternally grateful for that decision."
Jones gave each Rodriguez sibling a chance to listen to their dad's heartbeat. Tears rolled down Lirio's face as she listened through a stethoscope. Then Christina, the donor's widow, lingered the longest to hear the heart she once knew so well.
Then Melvin Jones and his family gave each of them a gift - a teddy bear with a recording of the actual heartbeat inside.
"That way if at any time you ever want to just listen, you can." he said.
Back their home in Diana, TX, Lirio told me her dad was a good man. She wanted to know his heart went to a good man too. She found out that Melvin Jones, who because of the transplant is now a grandfather of seven, is also a frequent volunteer at Baylor University Medical Center, an ambassador of sorts helping guide other families through the difficult transplant journey.
"Now I get to finally see who has his heart and see all the great stuff he's done," Lirio said.
She also learned that Melvin Jones now carries the obituary of Fermin Rodriguez in his wallet, always.
"Because he's a part of me and we're a part of each other," Jones said.
When I first met these families, they were nervous. They didn't know how this meeting would go. What could you possibly say to each other?
"Thank you, and there are no other words," Jones said. "Even though thank you is far, far not enough."
"I don't think there's ever enough words to say to someone what you really mean," Lirio Rodriguez said.
They found out that tears, and daddy's heartbeat, spoke loudly enough for them all.
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