The Heart of Love
– a true story by Darlene Yager
My brother, Danny, was born ten minutes before me. Inseparable from the beginning, we could only sleep if the other was close by. If one woke up, the other was soon to follow. Our two younger siblings were born within four years of our birth. Our parents were so busy with them that Danny and I took care of each other. If someone asked us what our names were, we would say in unison, “Danny”—or maybe the next day we would say, “Darlene.” As far as we were concerned, we were one and the same.
Throughout elementary school, junior and senior high, we ate every lunch together. The friends we had were always “our” friends. When we chose the same college, our father finally put his foot down and would not allow us to room together. We were assigned separate rooms with roommates of the same sex. I guess our parents hoped we would begin to operate more as individuals, but Danny and I continued to spend as much time together as possible. We began dating, but always as double dates. The truth is, we both knew we couldn’t spend the rest of our lives together, as we both wanted to have families of our own, but we were also so fulfilled in each other’s presence. Danny was my brother, my best friend, my main support, my confidant, and the funniest person I knew.
Although I liked doing everything with Danny, the pastime I enjoyed the most was painting. Danny was a sensitive, trained artist, who drew heavenly landscapes, with pictures of angels and little children. He could draw the most beautiful faces. His weakness, or so he said, was painting hands. In contrast, my strength was painting hands in their infinitely different positions. Often, Danny would ask me to paint hands on the angels or children in his paintings. When Danny and I were painting together, we felt exceptionally close to each other and also to our Creator.
One evening, we stayed very late finishing our work in the art classroom. Driving home, there was a special feeling between us. Suddenly, there was a car in our lane coming straight towards us. We were hit before I could even scream.
The driver of the other car was a teenager who had had too much to drink at a party. He was killed instantly. Danny was seriously hurt and rushed to the hospital. I was shaken, but not badly hurt. I rode in the ambulance with Danny. The doctors were grave and honest, Danny had sustained irreparable brain damage. There wasn’t anything that could be done. As his only relative present at the time, a surgeon approached me about the possibility of donating his heart for transplant. I got my parents on the phone and we all agreed to donate Danny’s heart so someone else might live. As Danny lay in a coma, his heart was removed and rushed to a waiting donor.
The two years that followed were black years for me. I attempted suicide three times, was hospitalized and given drugs I refused to take. I did not know how to live without my beloved Danny. My parents and friends tried, to no avail, to get me interested in life again.
A friend finally got through and convinced me one day to go to a local art show with her. I was trying to enjoy looking at the art, mostly for my friend, when suddenly I stopped in my tracks. There were paintings that were so similar to Danny’s I could hardly believe it. I looked closely at the name just to be sure. I was told the artist would return in an hour. I waited, just mesmerized by the art work. An hour later, a young man approached me and introduced himself as John. I felt a strange affinity to him. We talked for the rest of the day about art, then gave him my phone number and went home.
Back at my apartment, I could think of nothing else but John. I wanted to see him again more than anything else. I was angry at myself for not getting his phone number. Two agonizing weeks went by before he finally called me. We made a date to walk in the park. I could not understand my feelings, but I felt as if I had already fallen in love with him. I felt happy for the first time since Danny’s death.
At the park, John and I walked and talked and it felt as if time stood still. I told him about Danny and my suffering of the past two years. John reached out and held me and, for the first time since Danny died, I felt comforted. While my tears flowed, I felt Danny’s arms around me as well as John’s, and I felt at home. I knew in that moment that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with John. He shared that he had never felt such love for another person as he did for me.
John and I spent as much time as we could together. One morning, I asked John to tell me how he happened to begin painting. He shared the story of his life. He was born with a congenital heart disease. He had always dreamed of becoming an artist, but his health problem occupied much of his attention and energy. He told me of the years he was in and out of hospitals and finally he was in the hospital for what looked like the last time. He was dying of heart failure. His only hope was a heart transplant but the doctors gave very little hope of one coming his way in time.
One night, he was rushed to the operating room and quickly told that a heart was on its way. He woke the next day with a healthy heart pumping in his chest. The transplant was a success and he soon left the hospital to begin a new life. He immediately launched himself into his art. He hadn’t stopped painting since his operation and concluded by saying, “Painting is my life’s passion, Darlene. I feel the most connected to God when I paint.”
I held my breath while he spoke, my arms covered with goosebumps. I asked in a slow whisper, “Was your operation in March two years ago?”
“Yes!” was his stunned response as we both were realizing the possibility of what had happened. We held each other for a long while, not daring to speak as the growing truth was emerging.
Finally I spoke, ”John, I never wanted to know who Danny’s heart recipient was. We only learned that it was a success.”
Soon after, I placed a call to the hospital and asked them to research who received my brother’s heart. While we waited for the research, we studied John’s paintings together. The faces on the people were beautiful. It was only then that I noticed and pointed out how he concealed hands behind objects. “I have trouble painting hands, so I put them behind flowers or animals or other people,” John remarked.
The phone rang and we held each other as I received the information from the hospital that I already knew. Danny’s heart was successfully transplanted to John Yager.
John and I were married and, in a beautiful and sacred way, Danny’s love is with us every moment.
This story is an excerpt from the Vissell’s book, Meant To Be: Miraculous True Stories To Inspire a Lifetime of Love, containing 38 of the most amazing and inspiring stories you will ever read. Look for it at your favorite bookstore.