Spencer and Nikki Heath meeting Jack Church, who is believed to have been given their son’s heart. Photo / Supplied
151122LSmemorialheart_2.JPG Spencer and Nikki Heath meeting Jack Church, who is believed to have been given their son’s heart. Photo / Supplied 151122LSmemorial.JPG The re-established memorial for Joshua Heath, who was killed in a drink driving crash about a year ago. Photo / Laura Smith 161122LSjackchurch.JPG Auckland-based Jack Church has been active since his heart transplant surgery in October last year. Photo / Supplied 181122spRDPheath01 Joshua Heath was 19 when he died in a car crash. Photo / Supplied By Laura Smith
Grieving Rotorua mum Nikki Heath believes she has met the man who has her son’s heart beating in his chest.
Joshua Heath was just 19 when he died after a friend – drunk and stoned at the wheel – lost control of the car they were in and crashed on Te Ngae Rd in October last year.
The one glimmer of hope in the terrible tragedy for Joshua’s family was that his decision to be an organ donor could help others.
Shortly after his death, they learned his donations had saved the lives of six people, according to a letter they received from Organ Donation New Zealand.
His heart was transplanted to a young man of similar age and his lungs went to a middle-aged man. His liver was given to two recipients including a baby girl in Melbourne and a middle-aged woman.
His pancreas and one kidney went to a middle-aged man and his other kidney was given to a man of similar age.
Nikki – who was last weekend dealt another blow when the roadside memorial to her son vanished – believed Joshua’s donations were able to help so many people because he was such a fit young man.
“I guess it’s nice to know his heart is still beating out there somewhere,” she told the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend in March, when the driver of the vehicle was jailed after admitting causing the fatal crash.
She did not expect to meet any of those given his organs as privacy rules around organ donation in New Zealand meant matches between donors and recipients could not be confirmed.
But in May, she read an NZ Herald article about Jack Church, a 25-year-old Royal New Zealand Navy fitness instructor about to run the Hawke’s Bay Marathon after receiving a heart transplant.
A year earlier, Jack had noticed a drop in his fitness level and was admitted to hospital, where he discovered he had an enlarged heart and was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy.
Reading that Jack had received a heart transplant in the same month Joshua died, Nikki realised that sounded about right and reached out to him.
“We were reading it and thought, ‘that’s a bit freaky, a very similar timeline to when Josh passed away’,” Nikki told the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend this week.
She discovered the date of Jack’s transplant was the same day Joshua’s organs were donated.
There were 14 heart transplants in 2021, and Organ Donation New Zealand would not confirm if it was Joshua’s heart that Jack received due to privacy rules.
But Nikki was confident Jack was the recipient, and he believed so too.
Three weeks ago, she and her husband Spencer met Jack.
“It was pure coincidence we found him,” Nikki said.
“We feel very lucky to have been able to meet him too, I know it doesn’t often happen.”
While it was tough to meet him, she said Jack was amazing and a really nice guy.
Jack had been training for a half marathon at the time of the Herald article, and Nikki was glad her son’s heart went to someone who was making the most of it.
“It was a hard thing for us to do, but I think Joshy would have wanted it. We all still really miss him.”
Jack, who is based in Auckland and is now 27, said the meeting was a special moment and one he was glad of.
“For me personally I think losing a son so young and undeserving would be much harder than anything I’ve had to do on my journey.
“The Heath family are so kind and loving and after meeting them it made me want to cherish this gift Josh has given me even more.”
He said the family gave him a second chance at life for which he will forever be grateful.
“I’m just trying to live my life to the fullest for myself, my family, my friends and for the Heath family.”
Nikki said this second chance at life was something she hoped others would consider when thinking about being an organ donor.
“I would definitely encourage people to have that conversation.
“It was a terrible time for us but knowing Josh had helped so many people and that they were given a second chance at life was incredible.”
About organ donation
Organ Donation New Zealand’s website says people of all ages can be considered for organ and tissue donation.
One donor can change the lives of up to 10 people.
Heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants save and extend lives.
Tissue transplants include eye tissue (corneas and sclera) to restore sight or repair eyes and heart valves which are often used to save the lives of babies and young children.
Donated skin is the preferred dressing for people with severe burns.
• For more information about organ donation, visit donor.co.nz