When one woman’s son died in a tragic accident, her life was ripped to shreds. However, a year later she received a curious letter. And its contents would later help her piece her world back together.
Payton Casteel lived in Iowa with his mom Anna Hutt. Like most teenagers, Casteel was a thrill-seeker, and so he loved riding his dirt bike around town. However, he planned to upgrade from two wheels to four and applied for his learner’s permit at the DMV in 2014.
At the heart of it, Casteel was a typical teenage boy. “Payton was so intelligent and loved playing pranks on people,” his mom Hutt told Nebraska Medicine in May 2017. “He was great with computers, enjoyed welding, working on cars and his dirt bike.”
Most of the time, Casteel could be found taking his beloved dirt bike for spin. However, one day in 2014 the teen suffered a horrific accident. He had been riding close to his home when he crashed into a van.
At the time, Casteel didn’t have a helmet on. He suffered a severe trauma to his head. There was nothing doctors could do to save him and, sadly, the accident claimed the young boy’s life.
However, that was not the end of Casteel’s story. Because when the teen filled in his application for his learner’s permit, he also registered to be an organ donor. At the time, Hutt had disapproved of her son’s decision. And she never thought she’d have to deal with the consequences so soon.
“I will never forget that conversation,” she recalled, after Casteel’s death. “I told Payton, ‘What you come into this world with, you should leave with.” However, her son disagreed.
“He told me, ‘Mom, they’re my organs – not yours. Are you telling me that if something happens to me, you’d let my organs rot in the ground? No. I want to be a donor and help people,’” Hutt revealed.
And in death, Casteel did help people. In fact, his organs ended up saving the lives of seven different people. It was an admirable legacy.
Following the tragic accident, Hutt knew she’d never completely get over her son’s death, but she tried to start piecing her life back together. However, a year after Casteel’s passing, Hutt received an important letter.
The correspondence was from Gary Flint. And, although he came from a different state – Nebraska to be exact – he had a unique, intimate connection with Hutt. That’s because he was carrying her son’s heart.
Since 2007, Flint had suffered from an enlarged heart. The condition can be caused by a number of factors such as a virus, genetics, drug use or high blood pressure. However, to Flint it seemed unfair because he was in the peak of health. “I was an active guy who didn’t smoke or drink,” he explained.
In the years following his diagnosis, Flint managed to maintain his normal routine. He continued his job spraying lawns for a chemical spraying business and even found the energy to work out – impressive for a man in his sixties. However, in May 2014, around the time of Casteel’s accident, Flint’s condition began to worsen.
It was clear to Flint and those closest to him that he was slowing down. “My heart function got worse,” he later explained. “I wasn’t feeling well and had trouble breathing.” Then, things came to a head when his lips began turning blue.
Flint decided to consult his physician, who discovered that just 4 percent of his heart was working properly. As a result, the doctor placed him on a transplant list. And just six days later, a match was found. At this stage, he had no knowledge of who the heart belonged to.
Flint’s transplant gave him a second shot at life. And it enabled him to spend more time with his wife, two children and grandchildren. As a result, he decided to reach out to Casteel’s mother and extend his gratitude.
After exchanging letters and telephone calls for three years, Flint and Hutt finally decided to meet. And their get-together just happened to coincide with Mother’s Day. It was surely the most special Mother’s Day since Casteel’s death, because on this day, Hutt got to hear her beloved son’s heartbeat once more.
Furthermore, she got to hear how Casteel’s spirit lived on within Flint. Since receiving her son’s heart, Flint revealed his energy levels had gone through the roof, which made Hutt smile. “When Payton was little, he would go and go and go. It would make me tired just watching him,” she explained.
Flint also told her how much Casteel’s selflessness meant to him. “I have two birthdays now,” he said. “I always tell people that I’m 64 going on 18. My first birthday is February 27 – the day I was actually born. The other birthday is May 23 – the day I received Payton’s heart. That birthday means much more to me.”
Crucially, meeting Flint eased Hutt’s mind and changed her feelings about organ donation. “He’s changed my outlook,” Hutt admitted in a video for Nebraska Medicine. “I couldn’t think of a better person to have gotten [Casteel’s] heart. He had a big heart.”