Grateful heart recipient wrote letter to donor family—but what he expected ‘didn’t actually happen’

"My family got a life back, and they lost one"
March 26, 2018 10:08 am Last Updated: September 21, 2018 10:25 am

John Dickhout woke up on March 17, 2013, in the Philippines, and was not feeling well. His heart was racing. That was the first sign.

He was referred to a cardiologist in Toronto. Shortly afterward, the doctor informed Dickhout that he was going to need a transplant at some point.

Dickhout was 53 went he underwent heart transplant surgery. On January 25, 2016, the transplant was successful.

Organ donors and recipients are anonymous to each other. However, recipients are encouraged to write a letter of thanks.

“I can’t imagine anyone not doing that. My life was completely changed and given back to me by this decision. So of course one of the first things I wanted to do was sit down and write letters to my doctors and to my donor family,” Dickhout told Epoch Times.

Two months later, he received an anonymous letter back.

Rick Prashaw, father of the heart donor, said, “We responded in kind with a letter, again without giving out any identifying details, allowed him to know a little bit about our kid. About hockey, sports, school, various challenges, personality, the big heart that he had in terms of the kind of kid he was.”

“As soon as I read it … I was pretty sure I had found my donor,” Dickhout said.

Adam Prashaw. (Courtesy of Suzanne Corbeil)

Dickhout’s donor was Prashaw’s son, Adam Prashaw.

Adam passed away when he was just 22. He was in a hot tub one afternoon when his friends left him briefly. When they returned 10 minutes later, it was too late.

Prashaw had suffered from epilepsy since he was 5, and drowned in the hot tub on January 22, 2016, after having a seizure.

“He loved the water. From a baby I always had him out swimming, had him in swimming lessons as a very young child,” his mother, Suzanne Corbeil, recalls.

Prashaw donated his heart, kidneys, and liver.

Dickhout received Prashaw’s heart six days later.

After Dickhout thought he had found his donor and the donor’s parents, he took a further step to reach out.

Dickhout set up a fake Facebook account with the name Heart Recipient and sent an anonymous note to Rick Prashaw.

A couple of days later, Prashaw replied to Rick. Dickhout could tell they had a similar sense of humor.

“The first thing he said was: ‘This feels like a meeting at midnight in an underground parking lot,'” Dickhout recalls.

Dickhout asked Prashaw if he was interested in getting to know him personally.

“He had my son’s heart. Of course I did,” Prashaw explained.

A few months later, Prashaw visited Dickhout, and they met for the first time. They sat on Dickhout’s deck and talked about their respective experiences during the transplant.

“The biggest emotion is gratitude,” Dickhout recalls when meeting Prashaw.

“I’ve learned through all of this that emotions are always unpredictable. Sometimes you think this is going to be when you’re going to cry and be quite emotional. It didn’t happen actually then. I just smiled,” Prashaw explained.

Rick Prashaw listens to Adam’s heartbeat inside Dickhout’s chest. (Courtesy of Lynn Dickhout)

Of course they had very different stories.

“My family got a life back, and they lost one,” Dickhout explained.

Dickhout was determined to make the most of his new heart, and his new life.

Before his transplant, Dickhout wrote a list of post-transplant goals. He wrote down six or seven items.

The last thing on the list was to run a 10K in less than an hour.

Even though he wasn’t supposed to participate, he ran a 5K during the transplant games. He was supposed to wait a year, but he got special permission from his doctor because he had been progressing so well.

Prashaw and Corbeil were there to cheer him on. That’s when Corbeil met Dickhout for the first time.

“I think getting to know the person that received the organ is very much a mixed blessing,” Corbeil explained during a phone interview. “It has been very, very hard on one level, and extremely gratifying on the other.”

Corbeil was initially nervous to meet Dickhout, but knew her late son would have been happy.

Suzanne Corbeil second from the left. (Courtesy of Suzanne Corbeil)

“I was pleased that this person could have a new lease on life. I knew I couldn’t have my son back, so knowing someone else could live a full life because of him, and I think the bigger thing is knowing my son, and his spirit, and who he was, he was smiling down on that, this would have made him really happy.”

Little did Dickhout know that he would form a strong relationship with the parents of the donor following the transplant.

The three have kept in touch over the years, and Prashaw and Corbeil were there to cheer him on his first 10K race.

The race was on March 3, 2018.

Naturally, Dickhout was a little nervous before the race.

“I was a little teed up, of course, and maybe a little nervous, but really overall pretty relaxed because I had all the medical okays to go ahead from my cardiologist.”

“During the race I felt great. Other than the fact I don’t like running in the cold,” Dickhout recalls.

When he got halfway through the race, he was actually beating his desired time. At 6k, he felt like he couldn’t keep up his pace.

“Around 6k I thought no way I can keep up this pace, so I said just to heck with it. I’m just going to relax, enjoy the rest of the run, do what the doctor said, so then I slowed it down into a slower gear,” he said.

When he crossed the finish line, he came in at 63 minutes. It was still a great accomplishment, and he had done a great job spreading the word about organ donation.

Having Prashaw and Corbeil supporting Dickhout during the race and at the finish line was incredibly humbling.

“Along with the gratitude, the love, and the support, and how lucky and grateful I am to have that, there’s also this immense humility that comes with it, because understanding why they’re there.”

For Prashaw and Corbeil, the race was emotional as well.

“It was just special … it was just a real pleasure, a joy to see this man do what he wants to do, to do it because of my son’s gift,” Prashaw explained.

“I was so proud of him,” Corbeil recalls about watching Dickhout run. “Not only him, but looking at the faces of his daughter and his wife, at how happy they were to have him, and that my son contributed to that happiness, just was overwhelming to me.”