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

This is why organ donation matters.

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."

More
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / Katie Sturino

Plus-size women are in the majority. In America, 68% of women wear a size 14 or higher. Yet many plus-sized are ignored by the fashion industry. Plus-sized clothing is a $21 billion industry, however only one-fifth of clothing sales are plus-sized. On top of that, plus-sized women are often body shamed, further reinforcing that bigger body types are not mainstream despite the fact that it is common.

Plus-size fashion blogger Katie Sturino recently called out her body shamers. Sturino runs the blog, The 12ish Style, showing that plus-sized fashion isn't – and shouldn't be – limited to clothes that hide the body.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / Soraya

There is a strange right-wing logic that suggests when minorities fight for equal rights it's somehow a threat to the rights already held by those in the majority or who hold power.

Like when the Black Lives Matter movement started, many on the right claimed that fighting for black people to be treated equally somehow meant that other people's lives were not as valuable, leading to the short-lived All Lives Matter movement.

This same "oppressed majority" logic is behind the new Straight Pride movement which made headlines in August after its march through the streets of Boston.

Keep Reading Show less
popular