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CHANCE MEETING: Donor Family Meets Organ Recipient

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A weekly coffee meeting recently brought two strangers together. They soon realized they had something very important in common.

Celia McCollum looks at pictures of her daughter Amanda and says, "She was always smiling."

She says she was happy all the time, in pictures, at home and at work. McCollum says, "She was working as an EMT, trying to go into that career."

McCollum says her daughter Amanda was a busy single mom of two young boys. She was just 26 years-old when she started having heart problems. She says, "But, they couldn't figure out exactly what the problems were. She complained of her heart beating very rapid." She goes on to say, "She was at the neighbor's one night sitting and visiting with her and had a heart attack and died."

That was eleven years ago. But as Amanda's life ended, several others got a new start. McCollum says, "Saving people and helping people, she always wanted to help people, always no matter what it was. So, she left five organs to other people."

Amanda became an organ donor, giving four people another chance at life. Her family wrote to the recipients through the Iowa Donor Network. They learned their first names and how old they were.

But, just a couple weeks ago, one of the recipient's stories unexpectedly came to life. The meeting happened by chance at The Brick Street Books and Cafe in Adel. A meeting they say changed their lives. Jackie Mundus Keegan says, "I was stunned. I don't know. I can't find the words to describe it."

Mundus Keegan started working at the coffee shop last September when she moved to Adel. It's the same place Celia McCollum met a group of friends each week. Then, a couple weeks ago, one of the ladies saw Jackie at the kidney doctor's office. Jackie says, "She wanted to know why I had been to the doctor. And I told her I had a kidney/pancreas, transplant, and that I had to go for follow-up."

McCollum says, "I went up and talked to Jackie and said, can I ask you a question? She said sure. Did you get a transplant on August 28, 2001? And, she said yes."

To be sure, McCollum confirmed the story with the Iowa Donor Network. Both women say making the connection was an emotional moment. McCollum says, "She's just so full of life, so happy, and I'm just thrilled my daughter's life, her death, really could help someone live."

Jackie says, “Because of her I'm still going." She goes on to say, "It was nice to see the lady that gave these organs to me. It was nice to put a face to her name."

Now, the ladies say they’re each like a part of the family and plan to keep in touch.

More than 600 Iowans are currently on the waiting list for an organ transplant, according to the Iowa Donor Network's website. More than 116,000 people are waiting in the country.

If you'd like to donate your organs, check the yes box when you get your Iowa driver's license. You can also sign up and get more information on the donor registry website.