Transplant recipient meets family of organ donor shot, killed in Lancaster

Two families joined by tragic shooting meet for first time

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ben Heller has a new lease on life.

The 39-year-old can run, play with his young children and live his life.

However, with each breath, Heller takes, he's grateful to a young man he never met.

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"He gave me the best gift anyone could ever give me," Heller said.

In Sept. 2017, 29-year-old Joel McLemore was shot in the head outside a home in Lancaster.

He died three days later.

McLemore’s mother, Sherry was at his side at the hospital knowing there was nothing anyone could do.

"When I had to leave my son in the hospital, the machines were still running, and it takes a minute or two to realize I had to go.  The machines were still running," Sherry McLemore said.

Sherry McLemore couldn't have been happier on Friday to see that a recipient of her son’s organs, was alive and well.

She held a stethoscope to Heller's back and listened.

"In the background, I could hear the heartbeat and I know that's because of Joel," McLemore said.

In 2009, Heller began suffering from a type of pneumonia.

He needed oxygen at all times, and eventually needed new lungs.

"I blinked my eyes and I was down 45 pounds and on the couch all day long," Heller said. “'My kids got accustomed to bringing daddy his medication and wheeling the oxygen tank over to me on the couch."

Heller said his two children never saw him as a healthy man until after a year and a half on the transplant list when he received a call about a pair of lungs that were a match.

"He made the most selfless and wonderful decision in the world to donate his lungs, to somebody he doesn't know," Heller said.

Heller drove his wife and two children six hours from Washington, D.C., to meet the McLemores.

Channel 9 was there Friday when the families met and sat together in the office of Lifeshare, an organization that coordinates organ donations., deepening a new and forever bond.

"Joel and I are connected and I feel him,” Heller said. “I feel his spirit and I know that he's a part of me.”

Heller isn't the only person to benefit from McLemore's decision to be an organ donor.

Officials at Lifeshare said a man in Tennessee received McLemore’s liver, and a man and woman in North Carolina are alive because of his kidneys.

Both families said they were nervous about meeting each other, not wanting to cause more sadness.

However, once Heller, his wife and children walked in the door, all that worry vanished and the families embraced and got to know each other.

"It was so good for us," Sherry McLemore said.  "I feel like Joel is here with us, and he is."

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