For many Latin American girls, their quinceañera – or 15th birthday – is a truly special occasion. However, Monique Salinas’ was more emotional than most. Ten years earlier, after all, Salinas lost her brother in a car crash. And there isn’t a day that goes by when she doesn’t wish he was still here. However, waiting in the wings at her celebration, a stranger was ready to give her a mind-blowing surprise.
The quinceañera is a coming-of-age event for girls in Latino culture. It’s a special celebration that marks the transition from childhood into adulthood when a young woman turns 15 years of age. Like many others, then, Monique Salinas had planned a big celebration.
There was a huge party, of course, with family and friends all gathered in Benavides, Texas, to celebrate Salinas’ transition into womanhood. Salinas wore a pink bejeweled dress, fit for a princess, especially for the occasion. However, behind the smiles lay a hidden sadness for the whole family.
Indeed, the evening before the big day, Salinas made a confession to her mother, Melissa Hernandez. She said that she wished her brother could be there alongside her. Tragically, her younger brother, Mikey, had been killed in a car crash a decade earlier, and she still misses him every day.
“I said to her, ‘I know [you wish Mikey could be here]. But in his own way, he will be,” Hernandez explained in a March 2016 interview with TODAY. It would be easy to assume that she meant he would be there in spirit, but Hernandez had arranged a very special surprise for her daughter.
In fact, unbeknownst to Salinas, Hernandez had invited a special guest to the teen’s quinceañera: a young woman named Aubrey Reeves. Yet although the 18-year-old was a stranger to Salinas, Reeves had something very personal to share with the birthday girl.
As an eight-year-old, Reeves was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart disease. And after the little girl had two failed transplants, her family was told that finding a suitable donor held as much chance as a lottery win. By some kind of miracle, though, Mikey’s kidney and heart were a perfect match.
Thankfully, the transplant of the young boy’s organs into Reeves’ body was a success. Ten years later, then, Hernandez felt that it would be a good idea for Reeves and Salinas to meet at Salinas’ coming-of-age celebrations. In fact, their meeting would become the greatest gift that Salinas could ever have imagined.
Having been caught up in preparations for weeks, Hernandez did not even see Reeve until she arrived at the party. So as Reeves waited outside to make her grand entrance to surprise Salinas, she and Hernandez shared an emotional meeting.
“I felt a connection to her right away,” Hernandez said in the TODAY interview. After the two of them had embraced, Hernandez pulled away before placing her ear against Reeves’ chest. After all, it was her son’s heart in the 18-year-old’s chest, and the bereaved mother wanted to hear it.
“For donor families to meet, it has to be a mutual thing. You can choose not to know the person,” Hernandez told TODAY. “After 10 years, I felt it was time. I had made a tough choice as a parent… Seeing Aubrey, I knew I had done the right thing.”
Salinas was oblivious to what was happening outside the party; she was having too much fun on the dance floor. But then the family gathered around Salinas at the front of the room ready for her big surprise. And when Reeves walked into the room, Salinas burst into tears.
With tears rolling down her face, Salinas stood up and embraced Reeves. The birthday girl said, “Don’t let go. I can’t explain what I feel.” The strangers described their meeting as love at first sight, a sisterhood created by a boy who was very special to both of them.
Reeves, who lives in Wichita Falls in north Texas and drove ten hours to attend the party, told TODAY, “I knew Monique was probably going to be very emotional, very excited, and a little sad. It’s not her brother, it’s somebody else. But I knew that it was a really good thing for us to meet.”
Speaking to ABC News in March 2016, Hernandez said of her son, “He was a loving child. Anywhere he went he would talk to you and make you laugh and smile. He loved going to the ranch, barbecuing… He loved life. At five years old, he captured the hearts of many.”
Reeves, in fact, feels her personality subtly changed after the transplant. “Relatives at the party had come up to talk to me about what kind of kid he was,” she told TODAY. “This is not coincidental. He loved dogs, I love dogs. He loved Batman, I love Batman. This is the pure compatibility of having this heart.”
There were similarities, too, that Salinas and her mom noticed. The teen told TODAY, “She was very fun and outgoing. She reminded me so much of my little brother.” Meanwhile, her mother observed, “Their laughs are identical. They even have the same favorite foods.”
“It was surreal and such a beautiful moment,” Reeves’ mom, Cheryl, told ABC News. “Aubrey is really looking at it as another family. She’s really embracing the idea that she’s a part of their family because she has this little boy’s heart.”
The girls shared a dance at the party, and both families got together for lunch the next day. Reeves said of their bond, “[Mikey] is still here through me, in me. And I will always be here for her whenever she needs me. Because she didn’t get to have that with Mikey, but she can have that with me.”
According to Hernandez, her daughter’s birthday gift made the teen feel equally happy and sad. She told ABC News, “All she ever wanted was to hear her brother’s heart beating again and she got that gift. We both did. She said there was no other gift that we could have given her that was so special, so wonderful.”