By Robbie Owens

FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – To the unknowing, it was a simple wave of the hand.  With his voice trailing off into silence and his eyes filling with tears, Ronnie Thurman said, “It’s hard to describe what a gift that is…”  You see, the Fort Worth man knows that wave is a miracle.

It was a miracle made possible by the “tremendous kindness” of a North Texas family.  “I never dreamt that I would have two hands again,” said Thurman, an Indiana farmer who lost his hand in a farming accident.  He received a rare hand transplant two years ago.  (There have only been 20 performed in the US and less than a hundred worldwide.)  The donor was 22-year-old Ian Heidemann of Keller.

“One young man made a decision and it can impact so many people in such a good say,” said Ian’s father, Rob Heidemann during a panel discussion at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.  April is National Donate Life Month and both the donor family and recipients are working to raise awareness about organ donation.

Ian’s parents say they weren’t aware their son had registered to become an organ donor until he was fatally injured in a car crash in February of 2012.  But the decision, they say, not only gave life to strangers—but comfort, to his family.

“It’s given us a lot of strength, a lot of courage, a lot of peace, and now pride,” Rob Heidemann said, adding, “learning he was an organ donor helped pull us through that dark hour.”

Thinking of the character she saw in her son, Janis Heidemann said, “We knew his heart needed to go somewhere because that’s who he was. He loved life, and he loved people.”

The Heinemann’s were joined at JPS Tuesday with several transplant recipients who benefited from Ian’s donation.

Paul Boudwin of Houston received Ian’s lungs, and Reginald King, also of Houston, received his heart.

Speaking as a father King, who has three grown children, recognized what the Heinemann’s must have gone through. “It’s bittersweet. You’re not supposed to bury your children.”

Then the not-for-profit organ procurement organization LifeGift made contact. “When LifeGift called and said the Heinemann’s wanted to meet us, it was like a prayer answered.  Mom’s crying, Dad’s crying, everybody’s crying. You’re just blessed and you want to let [the family] them know this gift wasn’t wasted.”

For Thurman, the hand he received meant a return to independence.  Although he could feel sensation immediately after the surgery, it took months of therapy and hard work to make the transplant a success.  He says he can now handle farm equipment alone, turn an ignition, and even tie his own shoes.

“What an act of kindness, it’s incredible,” said Thurman. “Thank you is not a strong enough word to say; but, I will always be grateful.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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