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January 31st, 2017

After Transplant, a Gift From the Heart Honors Mother’s Lost Son

By In the Loop
Brian Cline wanted to find a way for Debbie Pollino to feel that joy of hearing her son’s heart beating. With the help of Mayo Clinic Health System staff, they captured a 30-second recording that was placed inside a teddy bear, which Brian gave to Debbie.

Brian Cline with Debbie Pollino, mother of his heart donor, and the teddy bear through which she can hear Nick's heart beat.

Nick Pollino never met a stranger. In his eyes, everyone was a friend. "Nick saw only the good," Debbie Pollino says of her only child, who passed away in January 2014. "He was a free spirit. He loved the outdoors. He was a genuinely happy person."

He was also a registered organ donor, something he and Debbie had discussed less than two months before the car accident that ended his life. "He believed that when he died, he was going to paradise," Debbie tells us. "He said, 'I'm not going to need my organs where I'm going.'" Debbie says she "couldn't have been more proud," of her son's decision. "His life meant something."

Nick Pollino

Indeed it did. Representatives from the LifeCenter Organ Donor Network told Debbie that Nick's organs and tissues saved eight lives and improved dozens of others. Brian Cline's was one of them.

Brian had lived with heart trouble for nearly two decades when he received the news that he would be getting a new heart. The transplant, which took place at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, restored Brian to health. And on the second anniversary of his surgery, Brian and his family sat around their kitchen table and wrote a letter to Debbie thanking her for that gift. Soon, Brian and Debbie were exchanging phone calls and making plans to meet.

Brian and his wife, Tami, wanted to do something special for Debbie when they met. So they reached out to staff at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Minnesota, where Brian receives much of his care. Would it be possible, they wondered, to make a recording of Nick's heartbeat to give to Debbie? "The staff really got behind the idea and ran with it," Brian tells us. And they used a special stethoscope to ensure they got a good recording.

"We weren't going to settle," Terri Blank, a nurse on the Cardiology team in Mankato, tells us. "We knew how important this was to Brian and knew it was something the donor's mother would cherish." After disappointing results during their first attempts to record the heartbeat, Blank brought in a speaker from home. The improvised sound system worked, and Blank and her colleague, Marissa Thorson, captured a 30-second recording, which was then placed inside a teddy bear. When the bear is squeezed, the recording plays.

In September 2016, Debbie and her family drove from Kentucky to Lake Crystal, Minnesota, to meet Brian and his family. There were hugs, lots of tears, and, for Debbie, a newfound comfort. "I felt like we had known each other forever," she says of meeting Brian. When he gave Debbie the teddy bear, she clasped it to her heart. "Doing that for her was the best thing I ever did," Brian told Hometown Health. "When we gave the bear to Debbie, she would not let go of it."

She won't let Brian go, either.

Debbie says she used to "pray that the person who received Nick's heart would be similar to him." When she met Brian, "it was like my prayers were answered," she tells us. Since their first meeting, the Clines have visited Debbie in Kentucky, and more visits are in the works. The two families "are connected forever," Debbie says. "I thank God every day that Nick's heart went to the right place."

You can hear more of the story (and Nick's heartbeat) in this video. (Have a tissue handy.) Then let us hear your thoughts below. You can use the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.

Tags: cardiology, heart transplant, Mayo Clinic Health System, Patient Stories

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