When Bayleigh Lowe walked down the aisle in May there was one person missing – her daddy, Mark Eblin, who had died in 2001. As a little girl, she had thought about her wedding and had really wanted her father to be with her this day. Unfortunately, that’s not how things worked out.
But just before reaching the altar, the bride paused by a pew near the front and hugged Terry Mayo. She knew having him there was the next best thing.
Mayo was the recipient of her father’s heart, transplanted nine years ago when her father, Mark Eblin, died from a brain aneurysm. Besides having a physical part of her father in his body, Mayo was also living evidence of her father’s generous spirit in being an organ donor.
“Not having my dad walk me down the aisle when I got married was something that I have cried about many times since he passed away,” said Lowe. “Even though I couldn’t have my daddy there the day of my wedding, I had his heart, and that made my day as complete and perfect as it could be.”
Although Mayo and Lowe’s family had communicated through letters and cards, the families had never met, until the night of the rehearsal dinner.
“It was more emotional than I expected,” said Lowe, 20. “I think the rest of our family and friends cried more than my sister and I did.”
Ditto for Mayo, who got a second chance at life because of the gift of organ donation.
There was more to remember on that day full of memorable moments. At the reception, Mayo and Lowe danced together in their version of the traditional father-daughter dance, and—Lowe swears this is true—through the music and the steps and the rhythm, she heard the beat of her father’s heart.
“And it was very comforting,” she said. “It was a moment that I will never forget.”
Mayo said while they danced, he told her how beautiful she was and that it was a privilege to attend such a momentous occasion.
“I told her that her dad was always right here,” he said pointing to his heart. “And then we both started crying.”
A Life-Saving Transplant
In 1999 Mayo, who lives in Ashland City, had a massive heart attack that resulted in congestive heart failure. In and out of the hospital for nearly two years, his heart function was dropping dramatically. It was down to 11 percent.
On Feb. 4, 2001, he received the call that a heart was available.
But the event was fraught with emotions about the donor family.
“Soon after getting out of the hospital I wrote them a letter,” said Mayo. “Then I wrote two more. But every time I would get ready to mail them, I didn’t. Here I was on the receiving end and they were on the loss end, and I just didn’t want to upset or bother them in any way.”
Years later the families found each other. The Eblin’s 2009 Christmas card included the save-the-date information for the wedding in Chattanooga.
“I got to meet the whole family,” said Mayo, 60. “It’s hard to explain, but it seemed like an immediate connection, like we were all family. It was special, really special.
“And during the ceremony when Bayleigh stopped at my pew, gave me a rose and kissed me, I just came apart.”
Meeting his donor family and being present during the wedding was more than Mayo could have ever anticipated.
Active and Productive
According to cardiac transplant physician Mark Wigger, M.D., Mayo had three goals while awaiting transplant: to see his grown children become parents, to experience being a grandfather and to return to work.
“It’s wonderful to see him accomplish his goals,” said Wigger, assistant professor at the Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute. “His experience with his donor’s family is that much more of a blessing. That must have been a remarkably special moment for him.”
Wigger said that Mayo’s resolve to remain active and focused on being productive is key to his continued success as a transplant patient.
“He is determined to make sure his heart is good for another 10 years, and that commitment is hugely important.”
Now Mayo can look forward to milestones with his new family all because of a decision made by another man nearly a decade ago.
“When you make the decision to be an organ donor, you are making a decision to give someone else a more abundant life. A second chance,” said Bayleigh. “Organ donation is bittersweet. Although we lost a loved one, four people got to live because of it. Four families got to keep their loved ones.”