Editor's note: On December 19, 2013 we mourned the loss of a dear friend, and the recipient of Taylor's heart, Patricia Winters. In her memory we are honored to have the opportunity to share a touching story from her lifetime best friend, Debra.
Written By Debra Salac, Best Friend to Patricia Winters (Taylor's Heart Recipient)
Two teenage girls working in a small drugstore. That is how my friendship with Patricia Navarino-Winters began. We were 16 year old girls who, oddly enough, both drove Silver Datsun 210’s and bonded over the love we had for them. We pulled all-nighters eating Taco Bell and sharing the endless hopes and dreams we had for our lives. And mostly, we laughed.
From the ages of 16 to 20 we were practically inseparable. Eventually I moved out of state and, while our contact stayed consistent for a while, the busyness of life set in. We had longer lapses between phone calls and visits, but no matter how many miles and minutes would come between us, our friendship always remained strong. We would reconnect in an instant, picking up right where we left off; our time together was always filled by laughter and long conversations without boundaries - our friendship was a safe zone for both of us.
So Much to Be Thankful For
As Patricia went on to become a nurse, an incredible mother and a wife, I had the blessing of watching it all unfold. When it became necessary for Patricia to have a heart transplant, we would have long conversations about life and death and the faith we shared. I have a strong faith in God. I believe that there is something bigger than myself that makes sense of all this craziness here on earth. When someone has the light of the Creator in their hearts it has this great ripple effect. It’s like a single candle being lit; the one candle lights a second candle and the second lights a third, and before you know it all of those little flames add up to a single bright light that’s impossible to miss. That, is organ donation. That, is Taylor’s Gift.
I am eternally grateful that Patricia DID receive a heart - it was Taylor’s. I remember the moment I heard the news that the heart was a match - there were so many emotions. The combination of fear and excitement was an excruciating wave of hope and heartache. As I prayed for these strangers who were facing one of the most horrific moments of their lives, I wept for them. I thanked God that these strangers were even willing to give, especially at a time of such significant loss. I will never be able to comprehend why it was someone so young, vibrant and clearly full of life, but I also don’t know what decides when we are each called to heaven. It felt way too soon for Taylor and her family, but every day I’m grateful that they considered organ donation. Every day I'm grateful that they made the decision to give Taylor’s gift of life.
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Patricia while she was recovering in Tucson after her transplant. We were like teenagers again, sharing new hopes and dreams and giggling until our insides hurt. Patricia had so much color in comparison to sick version of herself - her heart transplant immediately brought the color back to her cheeks, and it looked as if she was wearing makeup. I saw LIFE in my friend. A HOPE in her future was restored and she was making plans again. RENEWAL and an indescribable AWAKENING came to life in front of my eyes. Something that never would have happened if a wonderful family hadn’t said yes when posed the question, “Would you be willing to donate Taylor’s organs?”
The Greatest Gift
Can you imagine that one simple “YES” would has the power to give the gift of LIFE to someone? The experience transformed me! Taylor’s gift, the life she lived, and her family’s story thereafter, changed me forever - I will never be the same.
All because of this experience with a beautiful girl named Taylor, and the ripple effect that her story has had through her incredible parents, family, friends, and countless supporters of Taylor’s Gift Foundation, a simple "YES" has rippled into a global impact of love and light. The family's decision to donate has grown into more than one would think possible. This organization has done so much to get information out to the WORLD. Sharing the message that YOU have the ability to be a hero! To donate life! To Outlive Yourself! I’ve witnessed it. It is overwhelming this kind act; this decision a stranger makes for the benefit of someone else.
When you make the decision to be an organ donor - in this life or after - you are giving a priceless gift: renewed quality of life, more time with loved ones, new memories, and so much more. This simple act of generosity carries a ripple effect that is far beyond our understanding.
How do I communicate to someone how their decision changed my LIFE? When I lost my mother, I had my Patricia to talk to. After her heart transplant I had more time to bond with her husband and children. I had more time to create memories and take more photos. I had more time to have my best friend. I also had the opportunity to witness Patricia regain the things she wished for, taking care of her precious boys and husband, returning to the job she loved, and continuing the relationships she had with her friends and family. She touched so many lives in the time after receiving Taylor’s heart.
On December 19, 2013 Patricia passed away. Every day I mourn my dear friend. I hurt for myself and those that loved her. But I will always be grateful for the extra time we received. The conversations I shared with Patricia post-transplant help me have as much peace as possible after her passing. Without that extra time, I am unsure how I would have handled it. It is a gift so very extraordinary in a rather simple life. It isn’t something I take lightly. When I want to feel sad I do my best to focus on the Gift, Taylor’s Gift, instead of the loss.
When we see a story about a hero, we all think to ourselves, “What would I do? Could I be that brave? In the moment of tragedy could I even make the right decision?” The answer is YES! YOU can make that decision today, right now. Register to be an organ donor and communicate to your family and loved ones what your wishes are. Our life is a precious gift. Isn’t it awesome that even our final moment could transform the lives of others? And you have the ability to make that decision now - what do you have to lose?
I am forever bonded to the Storch family. I pray for them daily. I think of them often, and most importantly, I tell the story of Taylor’s gift to anyone that will listen.
Will you make the decision to give the greatest gift of all? Give the gift of LIFE. Register to be an organ donor today, right now.
Watch Taylor's Mom Meet Patricia for the First Time