Amber Travaglio | Ashlyn Richardson(CLEVELAND) — A grieving mother has met the child whose life was saved thanks to the donation of her little girl’s heart.
Mothers Amber Travaglio and Ashlyn Richardson embraced in a tearful first meeting Feb. 8, one year after the heart of Travaglio’s late daughter, Melody Kashawlic, 7, was donated to Peyton Richardson, 5.
“It was an overwhelming sense of peace, which may sound strange,” Travaglio told ABC News of meeting Richardson and Peyton. “There’s so much emotional turmoil in losing a child and curiosity in organ donation. Who has a piece of my child? What is the family like? Is their life better because of this?”
“Getting to see how much Ashlyn loves Peyton and seeing how she’ll do anything for her child brought me some peace. There’s never a complete closure in something like this; there’s a shadow of sadness but for one moment in time. I got to feel like my child was there because I know a part of Melody lives on in Peyton,” Travaglio said.
Travaglio of Cleveland, Ohio, said Melody was a vibrant little girl with an old soul who enjoyed fostering pets and knitting hats for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“She had an innate desire to help people,” Travaglio said. “[I’ll miss] cooking and baking together; we’d always make up silly songs and sing and play. We called her a little Punky Brewster with her purposely mismatched clothes. Thankfully, we built a lot of memories.”
But one particularly painful memory is from June 7, 2015, when after Melody woke up to use the bathroom, Travaglio said she heard a “bang” and found her daughter collapsed on the floor. Her daughter, who had a minor case of asthma, had suffered an unexplained asphyxic asthma attack, Travaglio said.
Travaglio, a nurse at the time, administered CPR and called 911. Melody was transferred to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland where her lungs failed and she died.
Seven hundred miles away in Conyers, Georgia, and five months earlier, on Jan. 15, 2015, Richardson was getting Peyton, then 3, ready for school.
Richardson, a mom of two, noticed Peyton had a fever and took her to a hospital emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a stomach virus and sent home with anti-nausea medication.
Richardson said her mother, a nurse, kept Peyton with her that night. “I wanted her to stay with her in case something happened,” she said.
When Peyton’s health didn’t improve, Richardson’s mother, Theresa Rainey, brought her to another hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
Richardson was on her way to work when she learned her daughter’s heart stopped at the hospital.
“We had no idea that she had heart issues at all,” Richardson said. “They performed CPR on her for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, which brought her back.”
Peyton was hooked up to a machine to support her heart’s function and days later doctors told Richardson that her daughter would need a brand new heart.
“They told us that it had to be a child around her age, size and blood type, which was so devastating because I knew for a transplant to happen, a child had to die. I know I wanted my child to recover, but I didn’t want another child to have to pass away in order for that to happen,” Richardson said.
Peyton had dilated cardiomyopathy, said one of her cardiologists, William Mahle, M.D., who is co-chief of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sibley Heart Center. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that usually starts in the heart’s main pumping chamber, or the left ventricle, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Peyton Richardson turned 4 on the day that Melody Kashawlic died, June 9, 2015.
All of Melody’s organs were donated with the exception of her lungs, which were sent to medical research, her mother, Travaglio, said. She said she hopes her daughter’s story will inspire others to be open to organ donation.
Patti DePompei, president of the Cleveland hospital where Melody died, said, “The profound generosity and compassion of Melody’s mother during such a painful time is an inspiring reminder of the importance of organ donation. Melody’s legacy endures as her heart continues to beat and provide life in Peyton.”
Three days after Melody’s death, Peyton received her heart through a transplant.
“Everything went very, very well,” Richardson said of the surgery. “She did not reject the heart at all. They said that everything looks perfect.”
Afterward, Richardson said she was given a pamphlet explaining she could write a letter to the donor’s family but would have to wait six months to allow the family to grieve. But at the beginning of January 2016, she got a letter from Travaglio. The letter, sent through an organ-donation service, omitted last names to protect the identities of both families.
But Travaglio found Richardson on Facebook, and the mothers corresponded, Richardson said.
The two families finally met in Georgia earlier this month where Travaglio could see for herself the child who got her daughter’s heart. Peyton is now in kindergarten and thriving.
Before their meeting, Richardson gave Travaglio a stuffed lamb which has inside it a recording of the heartbeat that both girls shared.
“I was so happy to be able to put my arms around the person who allowed my daughter a second chance at life,” Richardson said of Travaglio. “It was a dream to be able to meet them.”
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