ADVERTISEMENT

Victim's mother meets heart recipient

  • Article by: ARIEL CHEUNG
  • Associated Press
  • June 16, 2014 - 12:35 AM

NEENAH, Wis. — Joshua Richards had a good heart in more ways than one.

That was one of the first things Benjamin Adler told Richards' mother when he met the family of the Green Bay man whose organ donation saved his life.

"And it's not just Joshua," Adler told Richards' mother. "It's you and your family. You're amazing."

"Benny the Heart Guy," as Richards' family nicknamed him, traveled from Island Lake, Illinois, to meet the family — just five months after the heart transplant he desperately needed.

"I was told the morning after the transplant that it was very, very unlikely I could have lived another 24 hours," Adler said. "They found a blood clot ... and it would have gone into my heart and given me a massive stroke."

Adler, 47, was one of seven people to receive lifesaving organs from Richards after he was killed in a shooting Dec. 8 at the Luna Lounge bar in downtown Appleton. Chong Lee, 28, of Neenah, has been charged with killing Richards, 25, and is scheduled for trial in December.

The University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation service coordinates meetings between organ recipients and donors' families. Adler and Richards' mother, Jackie Pische, started communicating earlier this year.

"Just to hear those stories and know that before getting that phone call Dec. 8, they were looking at maybe not making it through the holidays — that's pretty powerful stuff," Pische told Post-Crescent Media (http://post.cr/1kPJEpf). "With a murder trial looming, everybody has to make a decision about how you're going to handle something like that. Instead of being angry or upset, turn it around and turn something good out of a really bad situation."

It was the first time Pische and Adler met face to face.

"Losing Josh was devastating, but seeing Ben and his family today is awesome," Pische said. "Today it really does come full circle, and it makes it all worth it."

Pische said Richards signed up to be an organ donor at 16 years old.

"He said, 'This is a no-brainer. What am I going to do with them?'" Pische said. "That's the kind of person Josh was. He would have done anything for anybody."

Adler, a Navy veteran, had his first heart attack in 2003, followed by four more over the following decade. Each time, doctors told him he needed a new heart, but he was shuffled from one cardiologist to another and left in the dark about whether they'd filed the paperwork to get him on the transplant list.

By July, he was bedridden with severe heart failure and transported from Chicago to the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison.

"From the moment I arrived in Madison, I realized that this hospital was different," Adler wrote in a letter to the hospital staff soon after his transplant. "I was amazed, as my experience with large companies and government agencies usually leaves me feeling as if they are too large and unorganized, but not here."

Within months, he was on the transplant list and given a ventricular assist device, which performed the functions his heart no longer could. Soon after, he got the news that a heart was waiting for him.

"The doctor told me it's the best transplant he's seen," Adler said. "I was walking a few hours after the surgery, back to work three months later."

During the meeting at Theda Clark Medical Center, the hospital raised a Donate Life flag to commemorate Richards and other organ donors and serve as a reminder to register as an organ donor.

In January, Pische started the Joshua J. Richards Charitable Foundation to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation and provide resources to children in need so they can participate in sports and extracurricular activities.

Pische said her goal is to raise $25,000 for the foundation.

"The way things are going with the generosity of so many people, I really think we're going to exceed that," she said. "The outpouring is just amazing. People have just been amazing. You wouldn't believe it."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by Post-Crescent Media

© 2014 Star Tribune