Heart donor's family, recipient meet for 1st time in Ann Arbor

Stephen Downing waited 6 years to meet his heart donor's family

By Lauren Podell - Reporter

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The room was silent as the family of Michael Cornack waited to meet the man who was given their loved one's heart.

Then came the tears as the two families met for the very first time.

Michael Cornack was 42 years old and living in Montrose, Mich., near Flint, when he fell and hit his head on a coffee table at his home. His brain injury was not survivable,. That's when his sister made the decision to donate her brother's organs.

"I lost a daughter at 18 months and always regretted not donating her organs to help other children. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. I knew Michael would do good, even after death," said his sister, Barbara Kudlick.

Michael's heart went to 44-year-old Stephen Downing of Beavercreek, Ohio. He is a man who couldn't have needed it more.

"I've always had heart problems, but I'll never forget when the doctor told me I had two weeks to live. I'll never forget it," said Downing.

Stephen was suffering from heart failure and was placed on the organ transplant waiting list. Just one week later, he got a call from the transplant center at the University of Michigan Medical Center telling him a heart was available.

"I'll never forget the first time I met my surgeon," said Downing. "He introduced himself and said, 'We have a heart for you. If you don't see me in the next few days, that's a good thing,' those words changed my life forever."

It has been six years since Stephen received Michael's heart. He knew it was the time to make the connection.

"I was so scared. You never know what the other family is going to say, how they feel or know how they are going to react. I didn't want them to be angry with me," said Downing.

Stephen wrote to his donor's family in January, hoping to some day meet them and learn more about the person who saved his life. Barbara responded and made their first connection over the phone in March.

"I was so excited when I got Stephen's letter. I always wondered, and now it's like I didn't lose my brother at all," she said.

After his transplant, Stephen went back to school and now is weeks away from earning his degree. He hopes to continue his education and ultimately become a transplant nurse. He has invited Michael's family to his graduation.

"As my new found sister told me, this was in God's plan. You were meant to live," Downing said.

Ever since Stephen received his new heart he discovered he had a new found love for Hawaiian Punch, something he never drank, but Michael did by the gallon. A connection? We think so.

Michael also saved the lives of three other people: One kidney went to a 64-year-old man, the other to a 42-year-old woman. His liver also saved the life a of 51-year-old man.

To learn more about organ donation go to www.giftoflifemichigan.org.

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