Earlier this year, Bill Conner lost his 20-year-old daughter, Abbey, in a tragic accident. According to CBS News, Abbey and her older brother, Austin, were found unconscious, face down in a resort pool over winter break in Cancun.
While Austin survived, Abbey had suffered irreversible brain damage by the time the siblings were discovered.
In the wake of this tragic loss, Bill Conner resolved to do something extraordinary to honor his daughter’s short life.
On May 22 — one day after Austin’s college graduation — he embarked on a cross-country bike trip. Beginning in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, Conner traveled 2,600 miles to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Abbey’s organs were recovered for donation back in January.
“This is what she would want me to do,” Conner told CBS.
As soon as she got her license at age 16, Abbey registered as organ donor. To this day, Conner remains very proud of his daughter’s decision.
“She registered. It’s something that she knew a long time ago. Unfortunately, it came to fruition, but that’s Abbey,” Conner said. “If you had her as a friend she always had your back, and for her to be helping people in need — that fits who she is.”
Conner would later find that Abbey’s organs saved the lives of four men, ages 20 to 60.
On Sunday, he was able to meet 21-year-old Loumonth Jack, Jr., a heart transplant recipient. Back in January, the Lafayette, Louisiana, suffered a heart attack and was given limited time to live.
Abbey’s healthy heart ended up being the miracle he needed to surive.
“He was given 10 days to live,” Conner told CBS. “With Abbey and the way things went — he’s alive today.”
Conner connected with Jack after notifying the Florida donation center that handled Abbey’s organs of his decision to bike on her behalf. The group sent letters to each organ recipient, asking if they’d be interested in meeting their donor’s father.
“The only person who has responded at this point is Jack Jr., the heart recipient,” Conner said.
After Conner connected with Jack, the two arranged to meet in Baton Rouge on Father’s Day — 1,400 miles into his 2,600-mile journey.
Speaking to CBS, Conner described what it was like meeting Jack in person.
“He’s a really humble kid,” he said. “Obviously, you know, I’m a dad. His parents raised him well. He’s very courteous and respectful and he’s got an old soul.”
Conner said that from the start, he felt like he already Jack. When they first met, the two shared a long hug in front of Jack’s friends and family.
“Knowing he’s alive because of Abbey, Abbey is alive inside of him — it’s her heart having him stand up straight,” Conner said. “I was happy for him and his family, and at the same time, I got to reunite with my daughter.”
Jack brought a stethoscope to the meeting so Conner could hear his daughter’s heartbeat again. As Conner listened, both men began to tear up.
“She saved me and I can’t repay her. I wish I could, but I can’t,” Jack told WAFB-TV. “All I can do is send my love to her family.”
Jack’s family made a recording of his heartbeat for Conner to listen to as he completes his trek.
Conner hopes that his journey will spread awareness about the importance of organ donation. The father created a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of his ride and raise money for Donate Life America (DLA).
“It’s about not being selfish and burying things that could help people live or live better lives,” Conner said. “If you want a legacy — what better legacy could you have than to help people live?”
He hopes to complete his trip on July 10.
To learn more about Abbey’s story and to see updates from Conner, click here.
(H/T: CBS News)