Three years after he received a transplant of his grandson's heart, 66-year-old Thomas Nielson of Logan is leading a normal life.
Nielson, who received his heart at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, remembers his operation well - along with the heartbreak and hope when it was learned his grandson, 16-year-old Jonathan Simper, would not survive injuries sustained in a March 1987 car-train accident.The boy's father, Craig Simper, of Brigham City, said there were many emotions at the time.
"We felt confused and frustrated at all the attention from news people from all throughout the world and although it was mostly in good taste, our experience was very personal and we didn't want our privacy invaded," he said.
It is still difficult for Simper and his wife, Teri, to talk about what they call "the nightmare of our lives." But they say consolation comes in knowing that part of Jonathan has been keeping his grandfather alive.
Doctors called the two hearts a "perfect match," and although Nielson has had ups and downs, there was never a problem with rejection as there often is with organ transplants.
Nielson's wife, Donna, said he had a serious reaction to medication after the surgery and had a serious case of spinal meningitis last summer.
Now Nielson takes very little medication and says he feels better than he has for years. He returned to his job as a masonry contractor only a few weeks after the transplant.
Nielson's heart was operating at only 13 percent of capacity when the Utah Transplant Team placed him on the organ donor list.
"I was not able to walk up stairs or do anything but wait," he recalled.
The heart had deteriorated to the point that he was at the top of the priority list by the time the transplant occurred.
Always close to his grandfather, Jonathan had told his parents a few days prior to his death, "I would give my heart to grandpa Tom if I could."
Young Simper was in a car full of teenagers when it crossed a railroad track west of Brigham City. Three of the youths died instantly.
Jonathan lived on life support until the following day, and by then Simper, an attorney, had convinced physicians that the transplant should take place.
Jonathan's corneas, both kidneys and some tissue were also donated because the family said by then they realized that giving organs is a "loving thing to do."
As a result of their experience, the families have encouraged others to sit down and talk to their children and plan in advance for their own organ donations.