Family of Mark Mudrick Meets Recipient of his Heart; Two Families Form Unique Bond

By Julie Perine on April 07, 2019 via

Almost a year and a half after the sudden death of 43-year-old Mark Mudrick, his family met the man who was given a new lease on life because of him.
“No words can describe the emotions of meeting Mark’s heart recipient,” said his wife Heather. “I am so grateful for the opportunity of hearing Mark’s heart beating and giving life to such a wonderful man.”
The recipient is 56-year-old Donald “Donnie” Ott of Altoona, Pa.
Several members of both families were there, sharing smiles and lots of tears; some happy and some sad.
“Seeing this family together was a blessing; knowing Mark was able to let this man live. Mark had such a love for life in general and that gives you some sort of peace, but it’s not easy,” Heather said. “But that’s what life is about – giving – and that’s pretty much what God wants us to do, to help each other.”
Wearing a Superman T under his button-up collared shirt and a stethoscope to his ear, 3-year-old Maddox knew he was listening to something amazing.
“When he was going to bed that night, he said he heard daddy’s heart go thump, thump, thump,” Heather said. “He knew it was something special; that his dad saved someone.”
Facilitated by CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education), the meeting was several months in the making. Heather’s communication with Donald began in April of 2018 when she reached out to him and other recipients of Mark’s organs.
“I sent the same letter to all of them, letting them know about Mark and our family and I included a picture,” she said.
Under CORE’s guidelines, Donnie’s name had not been released, but when he received Heather’s correspondence, he wanted to write back. After they corresponded several times, CORE offered to arrange an in-person meeting and both were on board.
The meeting would be in a central location and because so many people were attending, CORE booked the conference room of a Pittsburgh hotel.
“It was just so moving,” said Katelynn Metz, CORE communications & marketing coordinator. “Heather is so wonderful, sweet and beautiful and her family is amazing. The recipient is so grateful and the whole family came. It was amazing.”
Donnie vividly recalls the evening he received the phone call that he would finally receive a heart. He had waited a long time. In 1994, he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle. For several years, he continued his work as a custom cabinet maker and then as a Home Depot supervisor until 2010 when he could no longer work.
“On Aug. 2 of 2013, my heart doctor came into the ICU unit and sat down with me, explaining what he had to do to keep me alive,” he said. “That’s when they put the pump in.”
The Left Ventricular Assist Device “LVAD” literally pumped blood through his body.
He was placed on a waiting list for a heart, but after two years he contracted cancer of his small intestines.
“That automatically bumped me off the list. They had to wait until I was 100 percent cured before I could be placed on the list again,” he said.
Donnie experienced some infection with the LVAD and had to take intravenous antibiotics.
“They didn’t want to cut me open again until I got a heart,” he said. “I was listed as a 1A which means the next heart that became available – which was O positive – was mine.”
The Nov. 28 phone call he received changed his life.
“It was my transplant coordinator in Pittsburgh. She told me she had a heart and I had to come to the hospital,” he said. “To be honest, I didn’t think I would get that phone call. When you have O positive blood, it’s really hard to get a match.”
Much criteria has to line up before a recipient can be matched with a heart, Katelynn Metz said. In addition to blood type, the donor and recipient must be of similar size to reduce chance of rejection. And because a heart can only survive four to six hours without blood supply, geographical location is also a factor.
Donnie entered Allegheny General Hospital on Nov. 29 and because of the complications he had with his LVAD, he remained in a medically-induced coma for weeks after the transplant and wasn’t discharged from the hospital until April 1, 2018. The meeting with Heather, Mark’s son, his brother, stepchildren and other members of the family took place exactly one year later.
Upon hearing Donnie's story, Heather was very touched.
“Donald was so courageous. He knew he had this heart – this gift – and he was going to fight for it,” she said.
Heather also told Donnie all about Mark, who she married June 26, 2015. Originally from Steubenville, he attended West Virginia University and the WVU College of Law. At the time of his death, he worked as a landman/director of title, project manager for Percheron, LLC. He was a first-class electronics technician with the U.S. Navy, part of his service abroad during Operation Enduring Freedom. He adored his wife, daughters Morgan, Kaitlyn and Isabella Mudrick, Madison, Emma and Grace Hansbery and son Maddox Anthony, who shared his middle name.
Donnie said he had so many questions for Heather, but once meeting her and the family, he was at a loss for words.
“He asked if we could talk again and I said, ‘Of course.’ We are family now,” Heather said. “Losing Mark was the worse thing that has ever happened to me, but I feel so blessed and thankful to have gained this new family.”
Watching Heather, Maddox and other family members listen to his heartbeat was difficult and extremely humbling and the bond between them all was incredibly strong, Donnie said.
Because of Mark’s gift, he can fish and hunt with his grandchildren and live a full life. He continues to become stronger and is checked regularly. Thus far, there has been zero rejection of his new heart.
“Mark’s death was incredibly tragic. He was a young, healthy, successful, vibrant husband and father who was taken way too early. There’s no question it was tragic,” Katelynn said. “But it did happen and he was able – and Heather and the children are able – to have this legacy. It doesn’t heal and make it all better. We know that. But it does give them some amount of comfort to know he was able to give life. He is a hero.”
Mark died after a short hospitalization that followed a fall and blow to his head.
“Pressure built up so much, it was herniating out the back and he became brain dead,” Heather said. “They had put an intracranial press monitor in his head to measure the pressure which should be below 20 and it was 90 already, so I had a feeling.”
A series of bloodwork followed before he was declared dead. Mark remained on a ventilator to keep the organs alive until matches were set into place and phone calls made.
His lungs, kidneys and liver – as well as tissue for research purposes – were also donated. Mark is one of just 22 individuals who donated organs through Ruby Memorial Hospital in 2017.
Making that decision in the midst of the shocking news that Mark would not recover was overwhelming, Heather said, as was the lengthy conversation and paperwork which had to be completed on the spot.
“But I don’t think I hesitated,” she said. “That is what he had wished. I knew that’s what he wanted to do.”
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