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Nurse adopts man with autism so he can have a heart transplant

Jonathan Pinkard wasn't eligible for the procedure because he didn't have a support system.
/ Source: TODAY

When Jonathan Pinkard, a 27-year-old man with autism, was taken off the heart transplant list, all hope for his survival was gone.

Then, Pinkard found Lori Wood.

Wood, an ICU nurse at Piedmont Newnan Hospital in Georgia, was assigned to Pinkard in December 2018.

Lori Wood became Jonathan Pinkard's legal guardian so he could have a heart transplant. Courtesy of Lori Wood

“Jonathan was very sick, but he wasn’t eligible for a transplant because he didn’t have a support system,” Wood, 57, told TODAY Health. "One of the requirements is that you have someone to care for you afterwards."

Because there are so many people on waiting lists for donated organs, before receiving a transplant patients are evaluated to make sure they are responsible enough to protect their health, including taking anti-rejection medications, if they receive one.

“They’re going to look at things like do you show up for appointments and follow doctors orders?” said Anne Paschke, spokesperson for United Network for Organ Sharing, a group that decides which patients receive life-saving organ transplants in the United States. “If you get a transplant and don’t take your immunosuppressive drugs, you’re going to lose it.”

Pinkard, who had been in and out of the hospital since August, was often discharged to a men's shelter because he had nowhere else to go.

So, after knowing Pinkard for two days, the single mom asked Pinkard if she could become his legal guardian.

"I had to help him. It was a no-brainer," Wood revealed. "He would have died without the transplant."

Though Wood “didn’t know a thing” about Pinkard when he moved in, the two bonded quickly over football and "Family Feud".

“Jonathan has his chair, and I have my chair,” Wood said. “We like game shows and high five back and forth if we get an answer right. He is very loving."

Lori Wood, seen here with Jonathan, was honored by Piedmont Healthcare for making a positive difference. Courtesy of Piedmont Healthcare

Pinkard calls Wood, “Mama." She monitors his medications — he takes 34 pills a day — and shuttles him to doctors appointments. Wood is also helping Pinkard to improve his credit score and teaching him the life skills he needs to live independently.

“She treats me like one of her sons,” Pinkard told TODAY Health. “I am truly thank for that.”

Pinkard, who had his heart transplant in August, hopes to return work as an office clerk in December. Wood will miss pulling into the driveway and seeing Pinkard waving on the front porch.

“It’s been a joy having Jonathan here with us,” Wood said. “I knew this is what I was supposed to do."