Pass the tissues. Pennsylvania bride Jeni Stepien lost her father a decade ago — but thanks to her dad’s spirit of generosity, she felt his presence during her recent wedding.
In 2006, Stepien’s father, Michael, was tragically killed during a robbery — and a man named Arthur Thomas received his heart donation. At the time of the transplant, Thomas had been waiting nearly a decade for a heart. After the procedure, Thomas kept in touch with the Stepien family, but he met Jeni for the first time on August 5, the night before her wedding.
The bride-to-be asked Thomas — who goes by “Tom” — to walk her down the aisle in place of her father.
“Jeni wrote me a letter, and she said ‘Tom, I’m the daughter of the man whose heart’s inside you, and I’m going to get married on August 6th,'” he shared with Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate KDKA. “‘One further thing, if you’re willing – would you walk me down the aisle?'”
“We’ve been talking to him and writing letters and calling, and receiving flowers and sending gifts for the past 10 years, and now it’s finally here,” the bride recalled to ABC affiliate WABC.
Thomas was more than happy to accept the honor of walking his donor’s daughter down the aisle. He traveled from his home in New Jersey to the Pennsylvania ceremony – something he would have been unable to do prior to receiving his new heart.
“I’m so excited,” she told KDKA. “The whole family is here now. It’s like everybody is here.”
On her wedding day, Stepien beamed as Thomas walked her down the aisle. “Meeting Tom was so incredible!” she told HuffPost in another interview. “He is such a gracious and kind-hearted man. You could tell he was so thankful for his life, and that radiated from him.”
Thomas said he was incredibly thankful to have the chance to give something back to the bride and her family. “What greater honor could a person have than walking the daughter of a man who’s given his heart to him,” Thomas told KDKA.
“I was just so thankful that my dad could be here with us today in spirit and a piece of his physical being as well,” Stepien told the same outlet. “That was really special for us.”
Along with her story, the newlywed is hoping to spread awareness about the importance of organ donation. “It’s just like having my dad here and better,” the bride concluded. “Because we get to share this story with people and other people see that organ donors do matter.”