Labrador family overjoyed to finally meet man with loved one's transplanted heart

Jodi Loder didn't know what to expect, but she knew it was going to be emotional.

For just over two years, the 20-year-old dreamed of meeting the man who received her brother's transplanted heart, to be able to listen to his heart beat once more.

After taking his own life in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in the summer of 2016, Jeffrey Loder's family donated his heart, liver and lungs.

Jodi recalls when her brother was in the hospital on life support before the transplant surgery took place.

"I remember hours, I just had my head on his chest, just feeling his heart beating. That's the only thing that was keeping me calm in those moments," she said in an interview with CBC's Labrador Morning.

Meeting in person for the first time

For close to two years, the Loder family exchanged anonymous letters with the heart recipient.

Then in early August, they received a letter with a clue.

Jodi Loder/Facebook

The Loder family learned that the man with their loved one's heart had family in North Bay, Ont. That revelation helped the Loders find Robert Buttle and his wife, who live in the Kingston area. 

The Buttles and the Loders first connected via Facetime, but it wasn't until Sept. 24 that the two families actually got to meet face to face.

Jodi says her heart was racing the day her family met the Buttles near Ottawa.

"When we pulled into the driveway, it was, like, so hard to even get out, but you wanted to get out really quick but you also, like, weren't ready for it," said Jodi.

John Gaudi/CBC

She knocked on the door first.

"I was so nervous, and I was ready to burst into tears. I knew I was going to be so emotional, and then the second the door opened, and Rob is there in the doorway, I just hugged him," Jodi said, adding that it was almost like she'd known him forever.

Jodi's mother, Pat, also hugged Robert Buttle in the doorway, trying to be as brave as she could.

Listening to her brother's heart beat

A Facebook video shows the moment Jodi places her head against Robert Buttle's bare chest to listen to her brother's heart beat again.

"In any other circumstance, this would be weird. It would be real weird," Buttle said laughing, keeping the mood light.  

"Feel how strong it is?" he asked. "Any time you need to hear it, I can put the telephone up to it."

It was the first time Jodi heard her brother's heartbeat since he died in 2016.

Jodi Loder/Facebook

Welling up, she said Robert made it a happy time for her, and she felt as if her brother Jeffrey were there with her again.

Pat closed her eyes when she listened to her son's heart beat in Robert's chest, and in that moment, she says she saw Jeffrey, too.

"I couldn't ask for a better man to carry our son's heart. To have that heart, to become his own, to carry on his life," Pat said.

Advocates for organ donation

The Loder family's message about organ donation is clear.

Jodi says it's better to talk about organ donation before people have to make a decision during difficult circumstances.

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"I feel like in the moment, people choose not to because that's the last part of their loved one they don't want to give away," Jodi said.

She says knowing that organ donation can keep others from going through the same grief and hurt that she and her family went through makes it all worth it.

Meeting Robert Buttle and his family, and getting to hear their story, made a big difference, she said.

Jodi has a black outline of a drawing of three organs with flowers tattooed on her arm. The flowers signify that the organs are full of life.

She asked Robert what colour he wanted to fill in the flowers growing out of the heart. He picked green.

Jodi Loder/Facebook

Even though Pat still grieves the loss of her son, she said it brings her peace to know that her son's healthy heart gave Buttle a second chance at life, that something good came out of a loss.

"We sat in a living room of a sister, with Rob and his wife, and there was laughter and there were smiles. When we [remembered] Jeff, there was lots of tears and that as well, but it was a happiness, it was moving forward in life," she said.

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