Local mother meets the woman whose life was saved by her son's heart
SAINT JOSEPH, Mich. --- Teena Smith of Saint Joseph never thought she’d be able to hear her son again after he passed away two years ago, but that changed on Saturday.
Teena Smith and Sharon Culbreath just met face-to-face, but heart-to-heart, they’re family. The sounds of her son’s breathing heart, Smith never thought she’d hear again.
“I said ‘God, please tell me what to do.’ Then I just heard this voice in my ear that sounded like my son that said ‘You know what to do Mom. You always knew what to do,’” Smith recalls.
It’s a decision no mother imagines having to make for their children. When Smith’s son, Joe Reaume, passed away in 2020, she was left with the choice of whether or not to donate his organs. She now knows it was the right decision.
“It’s so therapeutic to hear from and correspond with somebody that has one of your loved one’s organs,” says Smith.
For Sharon Culbreath, reaching out to her donor’s family with letters and a stuffed bear with a recording of Reaume’s heartbeat inside was also the right decision.
“A lot of people who said they write to their donor family say they haven’t heard from them,” Culbreath says to Smith. “So, I was kind of scared, but I was praying and hoping you would write me back.”
At just 31 years old, Culbreath was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, leaving her in desperate need of a new heart.
“My heart rate went up to 217, and they told me I could have died if I didn’t have a defibrillator. It did that three times,” Culbreath recalls. “I ended up having huge blood clots in my stomach.”
Doctors then put Sharon on the national transplant list, and it was only six hours before a match was found. It was Reaume’s, who had passed away in Florida on the same day.
“It’s really a bittersweet thing because you don’t want anyone to die, but you know that’s the only way you’ll be able to get a transplant,” Culbreath says.
Although the loss of her son was extremely hard, Smith says she can’t think of a better person than Culbreath to home her son’s heart.
“I couldn’t have picked a better person for his heart,” Smith says to Culbreath. “You both have the same things, you are a very caring and giving person, and so was he, so you’re a perfect fit.”
Both Smith and Culbreath advocate for organ donation, seeing first-hand how it can save lives and create special bonds like theirs.
“Organ donations save lives and God is a miracle worker,” says Culbreath. “I’m standing here, right here is my witness.”