Anna Hutt didn’t agree with her son, Payton Casteel, when he told her that he had listed himself as an organ donor on his driver’s license.
The 16-year-old boy listened to his mother’s reasoning for staying off the list; she explained that no one should leave the world without all of the parts they had coming into it. But ultimately, he went against her wishes when he got his learner’s permit, telling her that he hoped his decision would help save a life.
Little did he know just how impactful that decision would be.
Casteel had only been a student driver for a few weeks when his life was prematurely cut short.
“Payton was so intelligent and loved playing pranks on people,” describes his mom, Anna Hutt, who now lives in Clarinda, Iowa. “He was great with computers, enjoyed welding, working on cars and his dirt bike.”
An avid dirt bike fan, the teen had been riding without a helmet when he was struck by a van; between the lack of head protection and the severity of the impact, he passed away from his injuries shortly following the accident.
Hutt was heartbroken. Describing her son as intelligent, she explained that he “loved playing pranks on people”, and was into computers, cars, dirt bikes, and welding.
While she had to get used to the fact that she’d buried her own child in Coin, Iowa, though, Hutt was given a bittersweet follow-up a year later from a man living just a few hours away.
In 2007, grandfather Gary Flint of Lexington, Nebraska was given the kind of news no one ever wants to hear — his heart was failing.
He was diagnosed with nonischemic cardiomyopathy, a condition that results in the swelling of the heart. For the next seven years, he went about his life, continuing to work and remain active — but by 2014, his heart was no longer in good functioning order.
He was referred to the Nebraska Medicine’s Heart Failure and Transplant Program, where he was given grim news. With just a four percent of his current heart working to keep him alive, the older man had just a few months to live if doctors were unable to find him a matching donor. Given his condition and heart availability, things didn’t look positive.
“Gary, you’re a very sick man,” Flint remembered his doctor telling him. “I’m not sure if we will get you a heart in time.”
Six days later, the nurses had a different story.
Flint was prepped for a transplant to be brought in from a match in nearby Iowa — while Flint didn’t know it at the time, it came from none other than the 16-year-old Casteel. While Hutt was heartbroken over the loss of her son, his decision to become a donor—driven by his desire, she explained, to help people—his organs were busy at work saving seven separate lives, one of which was Flint’s.
A year after his transplant, he reached out to Hutt, letting her know how much her son’s heart meant to him.
“I mean, given life again? When they say “a week [to live].” Yeah—given life,” Flint said of how grateful he was to Casteel’s decision.
Today, Gary met Payton's mother, Anna Hutt, for the first time at Nebraska Medicine. The two have been writing and talking on the phone for nearly two years.
He now had two birthdays, he explained to her. He told people he was “64, going on 18”; while he had the body of a 64-year-old man, he still had the heartbeat of a vibrant, caring 17-year-old teenager. He celebrated getting older every year, but also May 23rd – which was the day that he’d received Casteel’s heart and gotten a second chance at life.
“I couldn’t think of a better person to have gotten his heart,” Hutt said of Flint.
Two years after they first started corresponding, Hutt and Flint decided to meet in person on a very special day.
The two were introduced face-to-face on Mother’s Day, then Hutt got to do something incredible; listen to her son’s heartbeat again, inside Flint’s chest.
In 2007, Gary was diagnosed with nonischemic cardiomyophathy, an enlargement of the heart. By May 2014, approximately…
In the aftermath of everything, Hutt had a very special message to the public. The difference her son made, she explained, had completely changed her perspective on organ donation; she now wants others who may have felt like she did to realize how much they could do for others with a change of heart.