Tara Storch’s heart broke when she lost her daughter to injuries in a skiing accident: Thirteen-year-old Taylor was not only her child, but her best friend. But in an emotion-charged moment, she got to hear Taylor’s heart beat once again, six months later — in the chest of a grateful woman who gained her own life back as a result.
TODAY told the poignant story of a daughter lost and lives saved as Meredith Vieira sat with Tara, her husband, Todd, and heart recipient Patricia Winters live on Friday. Their hands clasped together, the trio described their fateful meeting.
An easy choice
Tragedy struck the Storches in March when, on the last run on the last day of a family skiing vacation at Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, Taylor tumbled backward and hit a tree. Within a day, doctors delivered shattering news: Taylor was brain dead.
When doctors asked them whether Taylor’s organs could be donated, the Storches didn’t waste a moment in assenting. “Taylor was a giving, wonderful person, and I looked at Tara, and we knew exactly that’s what Taylor would do,” Todd told Vieira. “She was so giving, and that choice was very, very easy.”
Meanwhile, Patricia Winters was feeling like she was on her last legs. She had dealt with cardiomyopathy for nearly five years, a condition that degenerated to the point that she was sleeping 18 hours a day and virtually unable to attend to her two young sons. “I felt like I wasn’t going to last too long,” Winters, of Arizona, said.
Through organ donation, Winters was given Taylor Storch’s heart in a transplant surgery performed in Tucson. And though the donation was confidential, circumstances conspired in such a way that within 24 hours, Winters knew whose heart she had. “A friend of [husband Joe] had sent over the article from Colorado stating that a 13-year-old girl had died in a ski accident and a 39-year-old Arizona woman received her heart, so I put two and two together.”
Back in Texas, Tara Storch longed to reconnect with her late daughter, even if only through the beating of her heart. She told Vieira a neighbor “went on the Internet and searched and searched and searched and found an article about someone in Arizona who received a heart transplant.” They contacted an acquaintance of Winters who had made an online comment in an article about Winters, and the two families were on the road toward meeting.
A ‘huge kick’
In September, six months after Taylor’s death, the Storches finally met Winters. The trio formed a circle and hugged wordlessly for nearly a minute. When the men left the room, Tara made a request to Patricia.
“I asked her, ‘Can I just lay my head on your chest and listen?’ Taylor and I were very, very close and I would lie in bed with her and just snuggle with her,” she told Vieira.
“So I got to lay my head on her chest. What was magical was while I was doing that, her heart just had this huge kick. Then Patricia said, ‘Did you hear that?’ And I said, “Yes, I did.’
“Then it did it again — this huge kick. I looked at Patricia and she said, ‘I was praying while you were lying on my chest that Taylor would give you a sign that she was here.’ And she did. I will never forget that. It was truly the gift of Taylor letting me know she was here.”
Taylor not only saved Patricia’s life, but the lives of four others with her donated organs. And her parents have become staunch proponents of organ donation — although some 90 percent of Americans say they would donate organs, only 30 percent know how to do so. Thus the family started the website TaylorsGift.org to help other families donate as they did on behalf of their daughter.
“This is a simple choice,” Todd Storch told Vieira. “Most people want to become donors and they’re not sure how to, and we’re trying to make that very, very easy for them, with one place to do that. All the states are listed. We want to have one simple place to make it easy for everyone to become an organ donor.”
As for Winters, she told Vieira that “not a moment” goes by when she doesn’t think of Taylor’s gift to her.
“If I’m here, and I’m here raising my boys, I’m alive because of her,” she said.