She lost her father 10 years ago but reunited with his heart on her wedding day.

The day before her wedding, Jeni Stepien was probably a little more anxious and excited than most brides-to-be — with good reason.

She was about to meet Arthur Thomas, the man who was going to walk her down the aisle, for the very first time.


Jeni on her wedding day. Photo by Lauren Renee Designs, used with permission.

Jeni lost her father, Michael, 10 years ago. He was tragically murdered during a robbery.

While he was on life support, Michael's family was informed that it was his wish to have all his organs that could be useful to others donated.

They were incredibly supportive of his decision, so within 48 hours, his heart and kidneys were given to two people who were in dire need of them.

Arthur Thomas was one of those people.

Thomas received Michael's heart in the nick of time.

Thomas (or Tom, as they call him) was days away from dying himself, Jeni tells Upworthy. He had been waiting for years for a heart, and her dad's was a literal lifeline.

Jeni's mom and dad with her as a baby. Photo via Jeni Stepien, used with permission.

Needless to say, Tom was incredibly grateful, but he also recognized that the Stepien family was going through a considerable grieving period.

Tom waited until Christmas of that year to send the Stepien family a thank-you letter.

Jeni's mother wrote back immediately, and for two years the family exchanged letters with Tom through CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education) before agreeing to have an open communication.

Understandably, Jeni says, in the beginning, their relationship wasn't the easiest.

"I wanted my father to be there so badly," Jeni explains. "There were times, right after my father's passing, when I would feel so cheated by the man who took this experience from me. But then I would think of Tom and how much love there was surrounding him."

When Jeni got engaged, she knew it was time to finally meet Tom face-to-face.

"As soon as I got engaged, I thought, 'But who will walk me down the aisle?'" Jeni recounts. "I thought instantly of Tom, and how special and meaningful it would be to be able to bring everything full circle for my mom and sister, as well — and for Tom."

Jeni and her now-husband, Paul Maenner. Photo by Lauren Renee Designs.

In a letter, she asked Tom if he'd be willing to take on the important role in her wedding. A few days later he called and tearfully accepted.

The two would officially meet just one day before the impending nuptials.

Everyone was anxious to meet Tom, but the family couldn't think of a more perfect and loving occasion.

When Jeni finally saw Tom at the church in her hometown of Swissvale, Pennsylvania, she knew he was meant to be with her and her soon-to-be-husband, Paul, on their big day.

Jeni and Tom at the wedding rehearsal. Photo by Lauren Renee Designs.

"Tom has a presence about him, like my father did when he was in the room. Everyone wants to be near those people, and likes them instantly," Jeni tells Upworthy.

Jeni says she felt her dad with her throughout her wedding — a milestone in her life that would not have been complete without him there in some way.

Jeni dancing with Tom. Photo by Lauren Renee Designs.

Jeni hopes sharing her experience will help other families that have lost a loved one see what extraordinary things organ donation can do.

She does recognize, however, that making such a decision is not always easy.

"I know that the grief can be so intense that you can't imagine life without your loved one. It can be hard to make that call," Jeni says, offering words of advice for anyone in a similar situation.

I urge people to have this conversation openly with your loved ones about your thoughts on organ donation. [My family] focused on helping people, and that actually eased our grief significantly as we adjusted to life without my father."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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via The Walt Disney Company / Flickr

One of the ways to tell if you're in a healthy relationship is whether you and your partner are free to talk about other people you find attractive. For many couples, bringing up such a sensitive topic can cause some major jealousy.

Of course, there's a healthy way to approach such a potentially dangerous topic.

Telling your partner you find someone else attractive shouldn't be about making them feel jealous. It's probably also best that if you're attracted to a coworker, friend, or their sibling, that you keep it to yourself.

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Courtesy of CeraVe
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"I love being a nurse because I have the honor of connecting with my patients during some of their best and some of their worst days and making a difference in their lives is among the most rewarding things that I can do in my own life" - Tenesia Richards, RN

From ushering new life into the world to holding the hand of a patient as they take their last breath, nurses are everyday heroes that deserve our respect and appreciation.

To give back to this community that is always giving so selflessly to others, CeraVe® put out a call to nurses to share their stories for a chance to be featured in Heroes Behind the Masks, a digital content series shining a light on nurses who go above and beyond to provide safe and quality care to patients and their communities.

First up: Tenesia Richards, a labor and delivery nurse working in New York City who, in addition to her regular job, started a community outreach program in a homeless shelter that houses expectant mothers for up to one year postpartum.

Tenesia | Heroes Behind the Masks presented by CeraVe www.youtube.com

Upon learning at a conference that black mothers in the U.S. die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the widest of all racial disparities in women's health, Richards decided to take further action to help her community. She, along with a handful of fellow nurses, volunteered to provide antepartum, childbirth and postpartum education to the women living at the shelter. Additionally, they looked for other ways to boost the spirits of the residents, like throwing baby showers and bringing in guest speakers. When COVID-19 hit and in-person gatherings were no longer possible, Richards and her team found creative workarounds and created holiday care packages for the mothers instead.

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