BOSTON (CBS) – In April 2018, a Beverly couple tragically lost their son. As Jonathan Ersing’s parents grieve, they have found a unique way to remain close to him.
“He was just one of those people who just lit up a room,” his mother, Joanne, remembers.
Jonathan had severe autism and in April, he accidentally choked on his food and went into cardiac arrest. After multiple attempts to resuscitate him, Jonathan was pronounced brain dead. He was 25 years old.
While Jonathan was losing his life, Sabrina Dahoda of upstate New York was on the brink of losing hers. The 31-year old had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and her heart was failing, fast.
“One of the doctors had come in,” Sabrina recounted, “and he said, ‘We have a heart for you.’”
It was Jonathan’s heart.
“Our happiness right there was also somebody else’s grief,” Sabrina said. “Somebody just lost their child.”
Sabrina underwent surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, but just two months later received something unexpected – a letter from Jonathan’s mom.
“I read it with my family and I could barely get it out,” remembered Sabrina. “I was crying. It was a very great moment.”
Joanne and her husband, Curtis, said they would like to meet the woman who received their son’s heart. So in July, when Sabrina came up from New York for a check-up, the Ersings invited Sabrina and her family to stay with them in Beverly.
Sabrina was surprised. “We were like oh, really? Sure.”
“It was just beautiful to have her in our home where Jonathan was, and to able to share in her progress,” said Joanne.
Sabrina’s mom, Sandy, said it was a moment she will never forget.
“To be able to meet the people that gave our daughter a second chance to live, to give her the gift of life, was beyond words that I can even express.”
Today, Sabrina is doing something in return. For the first time, Joanne and Curtis are seeing their son’s heart beating inside Sabrina on ultrasound. Even though Jonathan was in cardiac arrest for almost 30 minutes, doctors say his heart is remarkably strong.
“It’s better than my other heart,” joked Sabrina.
The Ersings also got a chance to hear their son’s heart with a stethoscope, an emotional moment for both the Ersings and Sabrina.
“You know, I’ve been doing this for years,” said Dr. Michael Givertz, Sabrina’s transplant cardiologist at the Brigham. “Those moments in medicine continue to touch me, ground me, and really teach me the importance of what we do for patients, but also what patients do for us and for the donor families.”
“Every time we see her we think of Jon and there is great sadness there,” explained Curtis. “But then we see her life and what’s happening there and there’s joy. And those two opposing feelings I don’t think will ever go away.”
For Sabrina, the Ersings wish her a long life and happiness. “Happiness, and continued contact with us,” added Joanne.
“They have a daughter now,” Sabrina said. “They’re already calling me family.”