An amazing story of connection – how our donor family found us

Seven weeks ago, something amazing happened. Our donor family found us.

We always wondered who they were, where they were, if it was a little boy or girl who had given Addison the most precious gift of life, how the family was coping. We did not think we would ever know much about them because our transplant social worker had warned us most donor families wish to remain anonymous.

Through the power of the internet, our donor family found Addison’s blog and reached out to connect with us.

When I first read through Felicia Sullenger’s messages, I thought it must be a hoax. It just seemed unreal. It was the morning of Addison’s big heart celebration on May 19 and we were busy with last-minute preps. We were already excited and emotional about the day so it just seemed to be too much of a coincidence. Aaron and I kept reading the messages over and over. We googled Felicia’s name and found a news story from April on a Reno, Nevada TV station. I got goosebumps and my hands were shaking. Felicia’s sweet little baby girl Audrey was three days old when she stopped breathing. She lived only six days. Felicia did not hesitate when asked if she would consider donating her daughter’s organs.

Audrey Jade Hope Sullenger – born April 30, 2011

We knew then it was almost certain that Audrey’s heart went to Addison. The dates and location fit. With excitement and some trepidation, we emailed Felicia back.

She responded within half an hour. All she had known was that her little girl’s heart went to a baby in Canada who was less than a month old. She had decided to google “Canadian baby heart transplant 2011” and this blog came up immediately. Felicia was so excited and thrilled to finally “meet” the baby she and her family have been praying for this past year. We have been emailing back and forth since then, getting to know each other. There have been a lot of emotions on both our sides. It’s taken me a while to let my feelings settle down, which is why I haven’t written about it until today. But I feel like Felicia and her family are now part of our extended family.

Felicia and her fiancee Lee

Felicia is pregnant with her second baby – another daughter. She and her fiancee Lee have already named the baby Olivia. That is actually a name Aaron and I both liked when we were expecting! Their wedding is planned for this September 15 and Olivia is due to arrive less than three weeks after that. On top of all this wedding and baby-prep planning, Felicia is active promoting the importance of organ donation.

Audrey coming home from the hospital healthy.

Here is Felicia and Audrey’s touching story:

My daughter was born April 30, 2011 weighing in at a healthy 7 lbs 7 ounces, as perfect as can be! Three days after she was born, I was at home feeding her. Usually she just fell asleep after she was done eating. I looked down to check on her and saw her still-warm body lifeless. Audrey had suddenly stopped breathing.  At the time I was living with my parents. I ran to my mom’s room with Audrey screaming, “Something’s wrong!” I called 911 and as I waited for what seemed like forever for the ambulance, my dad had been on the phone being coached on how to do CPR on Audrey. He didn’t revive her but we later found out without his efforts Audrey’s heart would not be strong enough to be donated to another baby. The ambulance came and took Audrey away to the hospital.

Audrey in the hospital

It was four hours before I was released from my house by the cops and investigators from their routine questioning with child cases (thanks to all those irresponsible unloving parents who hurt their children, I had to wait unknowing whether or not my baby was ok). I get to the hospital to find out Audrey had been revived and her heart was beating on its own, but her lungs were no longer working and she was on a ventilator. The next three days were filled with many tests, all conclusive that Audrey had suffered oxygen deprivation and her brain was completely dead. She had about 70 friends and family come visit her, many that had never met her before.

On May 6, 2011 at 11:36 am, the doctors made their way into the room. About 20 of my family members had been camping out and they told us the devastating news. My first born beautiful daughter was in Heaven. They never did find out why Audrey stopped breathing.

Audrey Jade Hope Sullenger lived six short days but she forever lives in many hearts! I would like to point out how important organ donation is. After we got the news that there was nothing else they could do for her I was approached about the idea of organ donation. An absolute YES came out of my mouth. I have always been about other people and Audrey was also.

Audrey was born to save, that is my “why me”, “why Audrey”. Knowing that she helped other people is what keeps me going and is how I cope.

– Felicia

This beautiful baby’s strong spirit lives on. Her kidneys went to a 38-year old woman. Her heart went to Addison.

We think about Audrey and her family everyday. We are so grateful for their strength and selflessness. We promise to never take their gift for granted. We promise to enjoy every moment of life in honour of Audrey.

Thank you.

Love,

Elaine, Aaron and Addison

19 thoughts on “An amazing story of connection – how our donor family found us

  1. Words cannot express the gratitude we all have for Felicia, Lee and Audrey for their incredible gift of life to our precious Addie and the 38 year old woman. I cannot imagine what they went through on may 6… Many tears have been shed for baby Audrey and what her mommy and daddy did for complete strangers.
    Felicia and Lee, THANK YOU.

    Congratulations and all the best on your upcoming marriage and baby Olivia!

    Sonya (Addison’s auntie)

  2. Elaine, Aaron, Addison, Felicia, Lee and Audrey. This is so beautiful…I’m speechless and crying all at the same time. Precious baby girls.

    And thank you Felicia for promoting the gift of life – so precious to all of us who are on the most difficult receiving end.

    God Bless!

  3. What a beautiful post…I am bawling like a baby reading it and in awe of the strength and courage Felicia and Lee found when tragedy struck. I notice one of their precious daughter Audrey’s middle names was Hope…something she gave to the families given a second chance at life….what a beautiful gift <3.
    My fervent wish for Felicia and Lee is a
    long happy life together as they marry and give birth to another miracle of love….Olivia is such a beautiful and dignified name ❤

  4. Awe Elaine and Aaron after reading this and trying to stop myself from crying again. i could comment on this amazing mom and the courage it took to donate Audrey’s organs. And so glad she never thought twice about it. Alot of questions got answered and so glad for you all. And the bond you have with Felicia & Lee will always be a special one ❤

  5. Thank you all for your kind words, it’s a dream of mine to meet Addison and family. However now I am thankful to be in contact. I look forward to hearing how well Addison is doing and continue to pray and praise God for hHis continued hand upon her, many people all across the world have had her in their thoughts ever since Audrey gave Addison her heart. It’s an honor to know of Addison and who she is becoming. A month after Audrey’s Home going, I met lee and fell in love soon bearing our first child, it’s been a great year this far. Thank you Elaine and aaron for including me. Love you!!

  6. Also I would like to say that for everyone out there, your social worker was absolutely wrong. Most donor families DO in fact wish to know their recipient families. The Canadian transplant place was my problem with not being able to reach Elaine and Aaron, with the many rules on the content of the letters written. So please if you are a recipient family questioning weather you should write your donor family, do it please. It helpse cope knowing the McCarthur family and bring able to see Elaine and Aaron enjoy their daughter!

  7. The day Felicia found Addison’s blog she called me with great excitement telling me she had found the baby that received Audrey’s heart, my heart skipped a beat, I could not believe it. I didn’t think that we would ever get to know who the family was or who the baby was that received Audrey’s heart. I am Audrey’s grandma, Felicia’s mom. I got to be at almost every doctor’s appt., went shopping for maternity clothes and baby items, and because Felicia lived with her dad and I at that time I got to feel Audrey kick quite a bit. I even got to cut her umbilical cord the day she was born. I felt like she was part mine and I was closer to her than my other 8 grandkids just for the fact that she lived with us. I looked forward to the coming months watching Audrey grow and develop. The night she stopped breathing changed my life and the rest of our family’s lives forever, and most of all, Felicia’s life. As her mom, it was most difficult to have to watch my daughter lose her baby, the baby she had wanted so desperately, it simply broke my heart. The day that Felicia was approached about organ donation and the coming events to make that happen also changed our lives. It gave us new hope and a new beginning, the beginning of lives being changed forever and knowing that Audrey would be an instrumental part of others lives becoming new again. As we prepared for Audrey’s funeral and burial we could only pray that the baby receiving her heart would become healthy again and the woman receiving her kidney’s would have a new healthier life. Our prayers were answered and getting to know the McCarthur family through this blog has been an answer to prayer also. Getting to meet the woman who received her kidneys was such a joy to see how happy her and her whole family are and how grateful everyone is has been an answer to my personal prayers. Now that Addison has a new heart we continue to pray for, what is now, Addison’s heart. That it become stronger and stronger with every beat as she grows into a little girl and then a young lady. We pray for her to have a long and fruitful life, one with happiness and love (which she already has, that is obvious) her whole life through. May God bless and keep you all the days of your lives Elaine, Aaron, and Addison, we love you!!!

  8. I have to say that when Felicia and her Mama came in to say hi and my place of employment, I was so expecting her lil bundle of joy to be with her. With Peace in her heart and a smile on her face she told us what had happened to her Lil Audrey. I had tears in my eyes immediately but she was happy knowing her decision was right and that Audrey had helped many people. Boy was she right!!!! Felicia, I love that you had the courage to do so and you thought about your daughter and everyone else instead of yourself. You are truly a wonderful person, I actually thought this previously also but now I truly know it. Congrats on finding Lee, your engagement and your Little Olivia!!!!

  9. Wow…what a wonderful story. Thank you to Felicia and her family for the wonderful gift of life that they gave to Addison, Aaron and Elaine. May their lives be filled with happiness and joy as they enter married life and welcome Olivia into the world.

  10. Thank you Felicia for giving life to others through such a difficult loss in your own personal life. A selfless act that created a chain of miracles! Addison is an inspiration to all of us who know and love her!

  11. What an amazing story. I’m sorry about the loss of Audrey, but that her heart saved Addison’s life. And the fact that Felicia found them – it was meant to be. Congratulations to Felicia on her upcoming wedding and baby number 2!

  12. My son passed away at Children’s Hospital in June/2008 at 6 weeks old, so these pictures and story hit very close to home. My sons organs were donated and two children received them, his heart, liver & kidneys were used in the process. Donating his organs is what helped me through the grieving process. When I saw this story on the news it brought overwhelming tears to my eyes and It had inspired me to do more. I am now trying to spread the word of the importance of organ and tissue donation, encouraging family, friends, and others in my community to do the same. Thank you for the inspiration, and hope.

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