It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, but for John and Debbie Stoner it had happened. They had lost their child, and yet the legacy of her short life would go on to make a hugely positive impact for many years to come.
Seven-year-old Jade Stoner from Dorset in the U.K. was a caring, sweet-natured little girl. Her parents have described her as being a “Barbie girl” who “loved all things pink with glitter.”
One evening in September 2006, though, Jade was cycling in the street close to her home when she was knocked from her bicycle. Seemingly in a bad way, she was rushed straight to hospital.
With her parents John and Debbie at her bedside, Jade kept fighting; it was, however, a losing battle. Tragically, doctors felt there was nothing more that could be done to resuscitate the little girl, and it was agreed that her life-support machine should be switched off.
Furthermore, as well as having to deal with their loss, Jade’s parents then had another agonizing decision to make: should they let their daughter’s organs be donated? “Initially, John didn’t want to donate her heart,” Debbie told British newspaper The Mirror in July 2016. “But she was so giving and loved helping. I think she would’ve wanted us to do it.”
Debbie and John discovered that Jade had a rare blood type and that her organs would go to people who were unlikely to receive a transplant otherwise. That cemented their decision, and so they agreed to donate.
Thanks to this brave decision, four lives were saved. Jade’s liver went to a 17-month-old boy whose own was close to failure. One kidney, meanwhile, went to a 29-year-old male; and the other, along with her pancreas, saved the life of a 42-year-old.
Jade’s heart, meanwhile, went to a ten-month-old girl suffering from cardiomyopathy, a chronic heart condition. Nellie-Mai had been abandoned shortly after birth and had always been ill; hers was an incredibly sad start to life.
Although Nellie-Mai was struggling to stay alive, her heart close to giving up, doctors couldn’t complete the transplant as she had no mom or dad. For the baby girl, though, salvation was just around the corner.
After hearing about Nellie-Mai’s fate, then, Jeff and Sarah Evans stepped in to help. And when the couple became the baby girl’s foster parents, doctors were granted permission to carry out the heart transplant procedure.
Happily, Nellie-Mai’s new heart had the intended effect: she survived the operation and was given a new lease of life. However, Jeff, her new dad, was keen to discover where Nellie-Mai’s lifeline had come from.
“I’d overheard the doctor who brought Nellie-Mai’s heart mention to the receptionist where he’d come from,” Jeff told The Mirror. “Later, I saw a newspaper story about Jade’s accident and I put the two together.”
But it wasn’t until the couple had formally adopted Nellie-Mai that social services allowed them to get in touch with Jade’s parents. After four years, then, that day finally came in 2010.
And although Jeff had pieced together where Nellie-Mai’s heart was likely to have come from, it was his wife Sarah who eventually reached out to Jade’s family. She sent an email to Debbie through Jade’s memorial website.
The two families began exchanging letters before moving on to phone calls. And while it was going to be a long time before they all met, in June 2016 Debbie, Nellie-Mai, Sarah and Jeff did just that in the city of Birmingham.
Then, out of the blue, Sarah had the idea to ask Debbie if she would like to hear Jade’s heart beating in Nellie-Mai’s chest. Sarah wasn’t exactly sure, though, how Debbie would react to the offer.
“It was quite spontaneous,” Sarah explained to The Mirror. “We were just about to leave and it was something I assumed she’d want to do, but maybe she didn’t want to ask.”
It was an offer, though, that Debbie took up. “When I listened, I thought about Jade and how much I miss her,” the bereaved mom added, speaking to the newspaper. “The first time I’d heard Jade’s heart beating was when I was pregnant with her at my ultrasound scan, and it sounded just as strong.”
“It’s really hard to explain my feelings,” she added. “I knew her heart was no longer Jade’s because she’s no longer here, but it was a part of her. Although I lost the most precious thing in my life, she is continuing to live on, in a way.”
“I didn’t want her to leave and not hear it,” said Sarah. “I was pleased we could do it because [a] thank you will never be enough.” And that moment provided a poignant and heartwarming end to a story so marred by tragedy.