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Video: He thanks family for organs that saved his life

  1. Closed captioning of: He thanks family for organs that saved his life

    >>> a man who was given the gift of life n a moment, kirk watson , who received a rare triple organ transplant will meet his donor's family for the first time. but first his story. in the summer of 2002 , colorado sheriff kirk watson knew something was wrong.

    >> i gained 30 pounds in one month. and i felt exhausted, like i had just finished a marathon.

    >> it was a grim diagnosis, familial amyloidosis, a disease where the liver creates too much of a certain protein that then affects the heart and kidneys.

    >> the first cardiologist i talked to said a virus attacked your heart. you need a transplant, but don't expect one.

    >> kirk was eventually put on the organ donor list for a heart, liver and kidney. a long wait for a new life began. miles away , lance lingus was on a family outing with his wife and three children. doctors believe it was a stroke that caused the 39-year-old to fall off his four-wheeler.

    >> i could see something was going on up front, and all of a sudden there was an accident.

    >> hours later, lance was pronounced brain dead and his wife knew exactly what she needed to do.

    >> he always told me he wanted to be a donor. it was on his driver's license. he was very strong, so his organs were good. i really wanted to follow through with his wishes.

    >> and quickly one family's tragedy was another family's miracle.

    >> i remember when i woke up from surgery, i could feel the difference in the heart. i mean it was like pounding strong. i could feel it through my legs, the pulse. we got this letter from the donor's family. my wife and i just sat there and cried.

    >> my name is jessica and i am lance 's spouse of 16 years. lance was always a very giving person who never took rest. he enjoyed helping others, working hard and making memories with his family.

    >> this person gave the last gift to me that he could, and it saved my life.

    >> when i look now at all he did and has done and is continuing to do, well, this is lance . he doesn't take rest. he has now given more life.

    >> kirk watson is here now with his wife, rita . good morning to you both.

    >> good morning.

    >> watching that had you in tears, rita .

    >> yeah.

    >> how grateful are you to this man, lance .

    >> i'm very grateful. he changed my life. i'm very saddened that his life gave me life, but i am thankful to his family and him just for considering other people in their times of grief. it just amazes me. i mean there's no way that i can say thank you enough to them.

    >> you too, rita ?

    >> absolutely. yes.

    >> you've spoken to the family over the phone but you've never met them in person.

    >> no.

    >> would you like to meet them now?

    >> yes.

    >> all right. so let's bring out the family of lance lingus. we're talking about jessica , levi, lucas and morgan. oh, hello, welcome.

    >> come here. hugs are free.

    >> nice to meet you.

    >> you too.

    >> more hugs? hugs are always free.

    >> have a seat, jessica . hi, you guys. welcome.

    >> you guys are very, very handsome.

    >> they're giving you these hugs, jessica , and welcome, all of you.

    >> thank you.

    >> in hugging him back, what's your emotion now?

    >> it's exciting. we've been -- we've been anxious to meet you. this whole process has been bittersweet, but this is exciting.

    >> you know, i didn't know how i would feel. i knew i'd be excited. but i'm feeling emotions that i'm not used to. at least exposing.

    >> how would you describe them right off the bat?

    >> giddy. you know, it's like an energy, a static electricity going through my body saying, oh, tingles. it's all very exciting like that. i didn't expect that.

    >> your children are dealing with the fact that you've lost your dad. it's a tough loss. knowing he made this effort, that he decided to donate so that this man could live, do any of you have any thoughts about that?

    >> i think it's pretty cool.

    >> are you proud of him?

    >> that he's still alive.

    >> thank you.

    >> he's saying that his father is still alive in you.

    >> and i believe that. i'm a better man for where i am now than i was a year ago. and i can't say it's all me. it's definitely the influence of rita , my caregiver, and these wonderful family giving me the last gift that their father could give.

    >> are you intimating that there's a part of lance that lives on in you.

    >> i don't know that i can say i feel him living in me but it's a nice idea that he's there watching over, and i'm hoping that all of us can become a lot closer and better friends and be a great influence on each other throughout life.

    >> yeah. i lay my ear on his heart and listen to it and it's so much different than his oar heart and i just say thanks, lance .

    >> i think these kids can use more of that so you keep hugging them.

    >> always.

    >> this is a new beginning for all of you, kirk and rita watson, jessica , levi, lucas. thank you so much. thank you for standing up on the importance of organ donation . thank you so much

Jessica Lyngaas
Jessica and Lance Lyngaas: After her husband's death gave new life to an organ transplant recipient, Jessica reached out to the family in a letter.
updated 11/4/2011 11:53:00 AM ET 2011-11-04T15:53:00

When the letter came, Kirk Watson and his wife just sat down and cried.

It told the story of Lance Lyngaas, who in death had given Watson a second chance at life through his organ donation. Written by Lyngaas’s wife, Jessica, the letter described a man who had long ago committed to do good in the world.

“When we got the letter from the donor’s family, my wife and I just sat there and cried, because I didn’t expect it,” Watson, who received a life-saving heart, liver and kidney transplant, told TODAY. “I didn’t expect it to impact me as much as it did. But it was just emotional realizing that this person gave the last gift to me that he could, and it saved my life.”

Read the letter: Click here to read the Jessica Lyngaas's letter to the Watsons

Organ recipients aren’t supposed to contact the families of donors - those are the rules.

But on rare occasions, when the donor family reaches out as Jessica Lyngaas did and the recipient is willing, institutions can give way. Even more rarely, families actually meet in person, as the Lyngaases and Watsons did in the TODAY studio.

For Watson, the meeting was emotional and exhilarating. “I knew I’d be excited, but I’m feeling emotions I’m not used to – or at least not used to exposing,” he told TODAY’s Ann Curry and the Lyngaases. “I feel giddy. It’s like an energy, like static electricity going through my body.”

Colorado Sherriff Kirk Watson realized something was wrong with him in the summer of 2002. In just a month he put on 30 pounds and began to suffer from crushing fatigue. Watson was given a grim diagnosis - familial amyloidosis – a disease in which the liver creates too much of a protein that then goes on to destroy the heart and the kidneys.

“The first cardiologist I talked to said … you need a transplant,” Watson remembers. “But don’t expect one. Go ahead and get your affairs in order.”

Watson was put on the donor list for a heart, liver and kidneys. And the wait began.

But then an accident occurred that would change everything for both the Lyngaases and Watsons.

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Lance Lyngaas, a 39-year-old farmer, was four-wheeling with his wife and three children when suddenly his vehicle crashed. Doctors later told the family that Lance had experienced a stroke.  Just hours after the accident he was pronounced brain dead.

His wife of 16 years knew what she had to do.

“He always told me he wanted to be a donor,” Jessica Lyngaas told TODAY. “It was on his driver’s license. He was very strong. So his organs were good, very good. I really wanted to follow through with his wishes.”

One family’s tragedy quickly became another’s salvation. At the Mayo Clinic Transplant Center, doctors replaced Watson’s failing organs with Lance Lyngaas’s strong and vital ones.

“As soon as I woke up I could feel the difference in the heart,” Watson remembers. “It was pounding strong and I could feel it through my legs. The pulse, beating with the heart. I mean, it was a miracle.”

As time passed, Jessica Lyngaas started to wonder about the person who’d been given a second chance at life through her husband’s death. So she wrote a letter.

“My name is Jessica and I am Lance’s spouse of 16 years,” she began. “We reside on a farm, which is the home farm Lance grew up on. Lance was always a very giving person who never took rest. He enjoyed helping others, working hard, and making memories with his family.”

The Watsons wanted to meet the family who had given them so much and the Mayo Clinic put the families in touch with one another. After several phone calls the Watsons and the Lyngaases met for the first time on TODAY.

As soon as he saw the Lyngaas family, Kirk Watson jumped up and gave them all a bear hug. “I don’t know if I can say I feel him living in me,” he said. “But it’s a nice idea that he’s there watching over. And I’m hoping that all of us can become a lot closer and better friends and be a great influence on each other throughout life.”

For Lance’s son Levi, the meeting felt like a reunion of sorts.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” he told Curry.  “He’s still alive kind of in a way.”

Rita Watson feels Lance’s presence, too, when she listens to her husband’s new heart.

“I lay my ear on his heart and listen to it,” she said. “It’s so much different than his other heart. And I just say thanks, Lance. Thanks a lot.”

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