When Maria Clark’s son, Nicholas Peters, got his license at 18, he told his mom about the happy news, doing a little happy dance as he did. He also told her to “spread him like the stars” if anything happened to him.
Maria had no idea that she would be fulfilling that request four years later.
Two years ago, Nicholas was involved in a car crash that ended his life at 25 years old. Heeding her son’s request, Maria decided to donate his organs.
“I said, ‘We can’t bury all of this magic, that we have to share,'” Maria, who has three surviving children, told “Good Morning America.”
Maria of Madisonville, Louisiana, described her son as the “life of the party.”
“He was always a people person, helping everybody, going out of his way to make sure you knew you were special,” she said. “Everybody was ‘Team Nick.'”
With the blessing of the entire family, Maria donated Nicholas’ organs to individuals across the country. Unbeknownst to her, one recipient was located less than three hours away.
In September 2020, Jean Paul Marceaux, 14, of New Iberia, Louisiana, was on a waiting list for his second heart transplant.
When he was two years old, the now seventh-grader contracted a virus and developed cardiomyopathy, which reduced his heart muscle’s ability to pump blood.
After being on life support for six months as he waited for a new heart, Jean Paul underwent a heart transplant at age two. But more than 10 years later, his heart began failing.
“When he got the first transplant, we knew the probability of him having to get a second one was highly likely,” said Candace Armstrong, Jean Paul’s mother. “He ended up in the hospital in June 2020.”
Jean Paul spent the whole summer fighting for his life in the hospital until his family got the call they had been waiting for in September. They were notified that a heart was available for him.
“It’s such a dichotomy because you are hoping for it because it’s going to sustain your son’s life, but you know what this is attached to,” said Candace said, who described getting the call as a “flood of emotions.”
“I know another mother is having what I have been praying to not happen,” she added. “It’s a very unusual circumstance to be in.”
Maria knew Nicholas’ heart had been donated, but she didn’t know to whom at the time.
Families usually have to wait a year before reaching out to the recipients. It’s also the donor’s family who can initiate contact.
Candace never heard from the family of Jean Paul’s first heart donor, but less than a year after receiving his second transplant, they got a letter from Maria, where they learned of Nicholas’ name and face.
“The whole 10 years that we never had a response from our first hero’s family, we still honor this family and this hero, but it’s just not tangible. We never had a face. We didn’t know who it was,” Candace said. “For Jean Paul to actually know a person and to connect with him and the family, it was the first time it had ever happened for us.”
Maria said she couldn’t wait for an entire year before connecting with the people whom her son had given new life to. She also wanted to get to know the recipients to “tell them about the life they had in them.”
“I wanted to know where his organs are,” Maria said of her decision to contact the recipients right away. “I want to know that they’re okay, that they’re doing fine and moving on with their lives and their health.”
The two mothers connected immediately after the letter. They talked on the phone and stayed in touch through text and Facebook. Candace also sent Maria updates on Jean Paul’s recovery, including a video of him dancing at his first prom.
“‘That’s Nick. He’s getting it. That is Nick,'” Maria recalled thinking when she saw the clip. “I was really happy about that.”
The two families met in person on May 14 in New Orleans. And during their meeting, Candace and Jean Paul brought a stethoscope so Maria could hear her son’s heart beating.
“He came in and he just hugged me. He had a strong hug, just like Nick did,” Maria recalled. “And then to hear the heartbeat, it was so strong and so full of life.”
“It came through the stethoscope so strong, just beating like a drum,” she added. “I was so connected to him because he was so much like Nick.”
Candace said that Maria, her children, and her grandkids are now part of their family forever. They even have photos of Nicholas throughout their home, including one on a bookcase in her son’s room.
“We feel like we know him,” she said. “We talk about him, Nick, like he’s part of his family, and he is. It’s not donor anymore, it’s Nick.”
Both mothers hope that their story inspires others to consider becoming organ donors.
“Nobody wants to talk about what happens when somebody passes away. It’s an uncomfortable situation,” Candace said. “But it’s very important because someone like Jean Paul, he wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for organ donation.”
Watch the emotional moment Maria hears Nicholas’ heartbeat in the video below.
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