Heart transplant creates bonds between families
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Three years ago, tragedy struck the Colemans in Chapel Hill when their 14-year-old daughter, Chloe, died.
But it was the beginning of a new life for Melissa Simon.
Simon had suffered from heart disease for 13 years. She wasn't expected to live past age 27 – until she received a heart transplant from Chloe.
"She saved my life and brought me from deepest, darkest, sickest days to feeling more alive than I've ever been," Simon, now 29, said.
Since the heart transplant surgery in 2007, Simon has been on a mission to spread the word about organ donation through her actions.
When she finished the Hustle up the Hancock climb up a 60-story building in Chicago, Simon was met by Chloe's parents, John and Linda Coleman, for the first time.
"Since she has our daughter's heart, she is part of our family," Linda Coleman said. "When you meet her, she's such a warm, wonderful person that you really embrace her."
The couple said that Simon's life and her work in organ donation honor their daughter's memory.
"She talks about Chloe and not herself. She talks about the gift she got from Chloe," Jon Coleman said.
The Colemans first decided to meet Simon after seeing a video she had posted online, saying thanks to Chloe.
"It was a tribute to Chloe," Simon said.
On Thursday, Simon met with the Colemans for the second time. They attended a performance by the East Chapel Hill High School chorus of "The Heart Within," a poem written by Chloe two years before her death.
"It was great to see because they always talked about how she had so many friends. Then to see them embrace us, and you're like, 'Wow, this is real,'" Simon said.
The Colemans said that building a relationship with Simon has helped them heal from the hurt of losing their daughter.
When Chloe's heart was transported in 2007, the whole family went to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to say good-bye, Jon Coleman said. This Sunday, when they take Simon to RDU, it will complete a circle of love they share.
"Now we have a focus, and a really happy focus," Jon Coleman said.