Friends by chance, family by choice…

Mandee Geary and her party visited our store back in April in preparation for her September wedding. Little did we know how much our hearts would be warmed by the journey these women have traveled when they walked through the door.  Together as friends, family, and soul-sisters, they had established and maintained a relationship that most people will never have the opportunity to experience. Mandee, the survivor of a successful heart transplant, purchased her wedding dress in the presence of her mom, her two sisters, and two of her best friends: the mother and sister of her heart donor.

To them, we wish to voice a great deal of appreciation for their willingness to allow us to share their story. Thank you, and best wishes.

Aya Photography/Bliss Wedding Blog

For Mandee Geary, the conclusion of her high school career brought more than college applications and dorm assignments; more than celebrations and senior trips; more than caps, gowns, and ideas of “endless possibilities.” For Mandee and her family, it was a moment of indefinite adversity. “My closest friends knew what was going on with me,” Mandee said. “As time went on, my health got worse.”

Born with congenital heart problems, Mandee’s childhood and adolescence slowly evolved into a rapid regression of her health and stability. By age 18, her only option was the hope of a heart transplant. The day before her high school graduation, Mandee’s wait began, a process that was as much of a promise as it was a threat.

By June 5th, 2001—six days after being put on “the list” and five days after graduation—Mandee’s body had successfully endured her life-altering transplant. It’s “kind of unheard of,” Mandee said, as she shared her recollections. Unheard of and unexpected, and the story goes on. However, where there was relief in Logan, Utah, there was distress in Englewood, Colorado.

In response to the occasion of Mandee’s transplant and recovery, family members and friends of the heart donor were facing their own recovery. A traumatic car accident in the early hours of June 3, 2001 resulted in the death of two local teenagers, one of which being 15-year-old Nicole Scott. Nicole’s mom, Amy Johnson, was soon thereafter approached by a nurse presenting the idea of organ donation.  Having been very active and athletic in her youth, the state Nicole would have been left in was unimaginable for her family.

“Nicole would not have had a quality of life,” Amy said. “There was never a conversation. I didn’t even hesitate. I just said ‘absolutely.’”

It was at that moment that a relationship between the two families would begin, a relationship that both parties would recognize as unheard of, unexpected, and irreplaceable. Lyndsey Case, Nicole’s older sister, remembers that day and the events that followed.

“In the midst of all of that,” Lyndsey said, “for me, personally, it was really a mixed emotion.” She went on to explain the battle between enduring a tragedy, and embracing a sense of relief for Nicole’s recipients. Approximately one year after the transplant, the recipient and her donor’s family got in contact with one another. It wasn’t long after that the two families met face-to-face.

“I got to hear Mandee’s heart,” Amy said. “Soon after that, it was like our families had always known each other.”

“When I talked to Mandee,” Lyndsey said, “for me, it was like I was talking to a long lost friend.” We had an “instant connection, her and I. We clicked and had a lot in common.”

From then on, the association between the two families became more familial than social. And 10 years later, together as a family, they are preparing for Mandee’s wedding.

“The commonalities that we have,” Amy said, “are unbelievable.”

Of Lyndsey, Mandee said “We’re very close, very much alike. We call each other sister.”

“She’s my go-to-person,” Lyndsey said. “She’s who I call, and vice-versa.”

“True, true soul sisters,” Amy said, explaining Mandee and Lyndsey’s relationship, “because of Nicole.”

“It’s just been so healing for all of us,” Mandee said.

“I just think it’s been an amazing thing for my family,” Lyndsey said, “dealing with such a tragedy.”

“It’s hard to imagine life without this family.” Amy explained. “My heart aches for Nicole. I miss her every single day.” But, it is because of her that “three other people live healthy, productive lives.”

“As a sibling, it is peaceful to me,” Lyndsey said. “I am a true believer that God has a plan for everyone. I truly believe this is what Nicole was supposed to do.”

“I got a second chance,” Mandee said. “And Nicole lives on.”

J Sonderegger

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