Thanks to one family’s incredible gift of life, a teenager can dance, sing, ride his bicycle, and play baseball.
After being sick for most of his life, 14-year-old Jean Paul Marceaux has a new heart beating in his chest. The New Iberia, Louisiana teen suffers from cardiomyopathy caused by damage from a virus he sustained at just 2 years old. He received a heart transplant as a toddler, but in 2020, his new heart gave out too.
“When he got the first transplant, we knew the probability of him having to get a second one was highly likely,” said Jean Paul’s mother, Candace Armstrong. “He ended up in the hospital in June 2020.”
The 7th grade student spent six months on life support, clinging to life as he awaited the perfect heart to arrive on the organ transplant list. In September 2020, they got the call they’d been dreaming of, even though their relief came at the expense of another family’s pain.
“It’s such a dichotomy because you are hoping for it because it’s going to sustain your son’s life, but you know what this is attached to,” Candace said. “I know another mother is having what I have been praying to not happen. It’s a very unusual circumstance to be in.”
That grieving mother is Maria Clark, whose son Nicholas Clark died after being in a car accident.
Even though she was reeling with grief, Maria knew that Nicholas wanted to have his organs donated. When Nicholas got his driver’s license at age 18, he came home on top of the world. He told his mother he’d checked the box to become an organ donor, telling her to “spread him like the stars” if anything ever happened to him.
After clearing it with her family, she did just that. Nicholas’s organs and tissues were given to multiple recipients, including two women who can now see thanks to his eyes. His kidney helped the son of an old school friend of Maria’s survive kidney failure, and now, his heart beats on in Jean Paul’s chest.
“I said, ‘We can’t bury all of this magic, that we have to share,'” Maria explained. She describes her late son as “the life of the party,” adding, “He was always a people person, helping everybody, going out of his way to make sure you knew you were special,” she added, and said, “everybody was ‘Team Nick.'”
After the transplant, Jean Paul had to stay isolated for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Maria couldn’t wait to reach out to his family, writing a letter less than a year after the surgery to tell Jean Paul and his family about the young man who had given them such an extraordinary gift.
When the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency helped set up a meeting between the two families, both mothers leaped at the chance. Jean Paul and Candace brought along a stethoscope so that Maria could hear her son’s heart beating in the teenager’s chest.
“Oh my gosh! It’s so strong! Just to know that it’s in him,” she gushed as she listened.
Although she’ll never get over the pain of losing Nicholas, she says seeing the positive impact his life made on other people helps ease the emotional burden.
“I’m happy to know that this young man can live a healthy life and be vibrant and, you know, just continue on his life. And I’m just so honored to be a part of that.”
The families agree that they’re connected for life now. Candace and Jean Paul have placed pictures of their hero donor around there house, mixed in with their own family pictures.
“We feel like we know him,” said Candace. “We talk about him, Nick, like he’s part of his family, and he is. It’s not donor anymore, it’s Nick.”
Both Candace and Maria hope that sharing their story will encourage others to become donors. Maria says it’s what Nick would have wanted, and she’s positive he is looking down from heaven, dancing and saying, “Well done.”
Watch the video below to see Maria hearing Nicholas’s heart beating inside Jean Paul’s chest, and don’t forget to share.
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