CONCORD, N.C. — When Lisa Crouch arrived at One Life Church in Concord, she was overwhelmed with a sense of peace.
Crouch traveled for more than six hours to get there from her home, in Valdosta, Georgia.
It has been nearly 2 1/2 years since her son, Jamie Claypoole, took his own life.
“It was really hard on all of us to lose him,” she said.
Claypoole, an avid traveler, musician and father, died March 24, 2016, at 24 years old.
He was also an organ donor.
"My son passed away, but four other people are alive because of it,” Crouch said.
More than two years later, Brandon McNeely, his heart recipient, was waiting to meet her in Concord.
When he was 12 years old, McNeely was diagnosed with a form of childhood cancer and underwent nearly two dozen chemotherapy treatments, believed to have damaged his heart.
By the time he was 34, the damaging effects rose to the surface, leaving McNeely, a husband and father, in desperate need of a heart transplant.
On Good Friday in 2016, he learned he was going to get Jamie Claypoole’s heart.
“I’m very grateful for it,” McNeely said. “I’m humbled.”
For more than a year, the two families corresponded through letters, social media and eventually over the phone.
They agreed to meet in person, Oct. 2, 2018, on Claypoole's birthday.
“I wasn't nervous,” his mother said. “It was more like just meeting up with an old friend."
During their meeting, Crouch listened intently to the rhythm of her son’s heart beating in McNeely’s chest.
“To know that part of my son still lives and to hear it, and hear it kicking like karate, it was really amazing,” she said. "So much of who we are is in that organ."
McNeely said the experience was one gift he could give to her.
Since the transplant, he said he also struggled to find closure for himself, afraid to call Claypoole’s heart his own.
Crouch quickly deferred any credit to her son Claypoole, for his decision to become an organ donor.
“It was really one of the easiest decisions to make,” she said. “I couldn't have handpicked a better man to be the keeper of my son's precious heart."
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