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September 7th, 2017

Unexpected Reunion: Transplant Patient Records Heartbeat as Gift to Donor Family

By In the Loop

When Mayo Clinic heart transplant patient Alyssa Sandeen met her donor’s mother for the first time last month, she brought the perfect gift: A teddy bear filled with a recording of her donor’s heartbeat.

When Mayo Clinic heart transplant patient Alyssa Sandeen met her donor’s mother for the first time, she brought the perfect gift: a teddy bear with a recording of her donor’s heartbeat. 


Alyssa Sandeen and Jennifer Leekley had never met face-to-face. But they knew each other's stories well, and had been working toward this moment for a while. After months of planning, the two women met up late last month at a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) event in Illinois. And to say it was emotional would be like saying the sky is blue, or water is wet, or … well, you get the point. Fortunately, Alyssa brought the perfect ice-breaker: a recording with the sound of Jennifer's daughter Katlyn's heart, which now beats inside Alyssa's chest.

As the Chicago Tribune, CBS Chicago, the Mankato Free Press, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the San Francisco Chronicle report, Katlyn, or Kate as her family called her, was killed by a drunk driver in 2013. She was just 20 years old. Because Katlyn was a registered organ donor, her organs helped save the lives of four other people. Including Alyssa, who received Katlyn's heart during a transplant procedure at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in June 2013.

Alyssa, as we previously reported, has faced a laundry list of medical issues that began when she was just 8 years old. That list includes a kidney transplant (with her mom as her donor), skin cancer, a heart attack, and, miraculously enough, two previous heart transplants.

While the physical and emotional toll of those health issues would be enough to weigh anyone down, Alyssa's not just anyone. She's stayed positive through them all, and grateful to everyone who's given her the chance to keep fighting. To show her appreciation for the gift of life she received from Katlyn, the Mankato Free Press reports that with the help of her care team at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Alyssa recorded the sound of Katlyn's heart beating inside her chest.

Alyssa's care team at Mayo Clinic "used a specialized stethoscope, speaker and recording device to capture the sound" of Katlyn's heartbeat, the paper reports. Alyssa's dad, Christopher, then suggested Alyssa put that recording inside a teddy bear to give to Katlyn's mom. She'll now "be able to hear her daughter's heartbeat whenever she wants," Alyssa tells the Free Press.

It was a gift that Jennifer says is perfect in every way. "I don't want to let it [the teddy bear] go," she tells CBS Chicago. "Just to hear her heartbeat — I can't explain it."

Watch Alyssa and Jennifer meet for the first time:

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Tags: heart transplant, Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, Mayo Clinic Rochester, Patient Stories

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