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Woman finishes Chicago Marathon holding hands with father of her heart donor

A woman who received a life-saving heart transplant ran the Chicago Marathon with the father of her donor, four years after his daughter's death.
/ Source: TODAY

When Fred Miller lost his daughter Alyssa to illness at 24 years old, he longed for any way to feel close to her again.

For all 26.2 miles of Sunday's Chicago Marathon, his daughter's heart was beating right alongside him.

Shae Brown, 49, who received a life-saving heart transplant from Alyssa's donation, crossed the finish line holding hands with Miller, 62, after 6 hours, 30 minutes and 13 seconds of running together.

"Alyssa gave me a new life,'' Brown told NBC Nightly News. "She's my miracle."

"My daughter's heart has gone to a good person,'' Miller said. "She wanted to help somebody else to have the life that unfortunately she could not have."

Brown was diagnosed with cancer when she was 16, underwent two years of chemotherapy and then had a relapse in which they found damage to her heart. In her mid-30s, her heart issues necessitated getting a pacemaker.

By the time she was 43, she could barely climb 16 steps in her house in Shiner, Texas, due to her heart condition. After seeing a specialist, she was told she needed a heart transplant.

She received her new heart from Alyssa, who had decided to donate her organs before passing away in 2013.

Two years after receiving the transplant, Brown wrote a letter to the Miller family about her life and her gratitude for his daughter's heart.

The two began communicating by email and text messages before Miller, his wife and their daughter traveled from their home in Glencoe, Illinois, to meet her in person.

"I was very nervous, very nervous,'' Brown said. "Was I worthy to them to have their daughter's heart?"

"I think it was a sense of destiny, to be honest about it,'' Miller said. "We were anxious about what to expect because we were in some ways re-encountering our daughter after this terrible loss. But any way, shape or form that I could continue a relationship with my daughter, I am willing to do that."

Brown then brought up the idea of tackling a marathon. She had never run one, while Miller had finished 10 marathons.

"I decided that I wanted to show the world before I ever left the hospital, that severe illnesses, if you don't let them, can't hold you back,'' she said. "I want the world to know what organ donation can do for a person."

Brown received clearance from her doctor to run in the race, leading to a day the two of them will never forget.

"I'm inches away from a part of my daughter,'' an emotional Miller said at the finish.

Brown broke down in tears.

"I am very happy,'' she said. "I can't believe I did it!"

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter.