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Sharing a heartbeat

— After long wait, mother of slain girl listens to her daughter's heart beating inside Gresham resident Shannon Lusby's chest —


It was the moment both women had been waiting for.

Shannon Lusby, after traveling to Southern California from her home in Gresham, sat with a stethoscope to her heart.

Linda Miers sat next to her, the same stethoscope tucked into her ears.

Seven years ago, Linda’s daughter Melanie, 16, died when a bullet from a drive-by shooting strayed, striking the girl at a party in San Bernardino.

Two days later, Melanie’s heart became Shannon’s, saving the 51-year-old woman’s life.

A year after the surgery, Shannon wrote Melanie’s family a thank-you letter. It took three years for Linda to be able to respond. But when she was, she wrote back and made a heartbreaking request.

“I just want to listen to my baby’s heart.”

So on Thursday, Sept. 13, Shannon and Linda nervously met in a conference room at OneLegacy, an organ and tissue recovery organization serving the greater Los Angeles area,

“Do you mind if I listen?” Linda asked.

Shannon placed the stethoscope to her heart.

“Can you hear it?”

There was a pause.

“No.”

“What about now?” Shannon asked, moving it slightly.

“No.”

Then Shannon moved it just right.

Linda’s face lit up with excitement that this woman next to her lived to see a grandson born thanks to her daughter’s kind spirit and generous nature.

Then Linda’s face crumpled.

Her daughter was gone.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ONELEGACY - Linda Miers is overcome with emotion upon listening to Shannon Lusby's transplanted heart. Linda's daughter Melanie was Shannon's organ donor. “I could see her pain and I felt so bad,” Shannon said. “That I am living because of that.”

Looking up through her tears, Linda’s eyes met Shannon’s. She too was crying.

In that moment, a realization Linda had long known suddenly crystallized.

If not for her daughter’s death, this sweet woman would not be alive.

Sadness then gave way to pride as huge smile broke out across Linda’s face.

“This is what my daughter would have wanted,” Linda said. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ONELEGACY - Tears give way to smiles as Linda Miers listens to Shannon Lusby's heart again. 'It's a good strong heartbeat,' she said.

Melanie’s gifts

Just a few weeks before Melanie died on Nov. 19, 2005, she turned 16 and told her mother she wanted to be an organ donor.

So, when Melanie suddenly died, Linda knew what her daughter’s final wishes were.

Melanie’s liver and one kidney saved two lives.

Her other kidney and pancreas saved a third person.

And her heart went to Shannon.

Diagnosed at 17 with a hereditary disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Shannon saw it kill her father, an aunt and her little brother Patrick, who died when he was 22. In February 2011, it contributed to the death of her sister Kathleen Gordanier of Vancouver.

She was 51 and on the waitlist for a heart transplant when she died.

Shannon was 31 when she got her first heart transplant. She was the first woman in Oregon to undergo the life-saving procedure in March 1986. That heart lasted almost 20 years, allowing her to raise her two sons, Chris, now 36, and Jason, 34, with her high school sweetheart, Brad.

By 2005, a series of heart attacks hospitalized her. Doctors said she needed a new heart transplant — or a re-do. Just when she accepted that her death was God’s plan, a miracle happened.

Shannon was getting a new heart.

Grief and gratitude

But Shannon’s miracle was Linda’s heart-wrenching loss.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Shannon Lusby's heart came from Linda Miers' 16 year-old daughter, Melanie, who was killed when she was hit by a bullet during a drive-by shooting at a party in San Bernardino, Calif.The loss was profound, not only for Linda, but for Melanie’s sisters. Michelle was 17 and Natalie just 4 when their sister died.

Two years later, when Michelle gave birth to a baby girl, she named her Melanie after her beloved sister.

It was about that time when Linda began to speak publicly about organ donation. During April, which is Donate Life awareness month, and November, the month her daughter died, she shares her story and that of her daughter.

“In a way, it’s my therapy,” Linda said.

Through her involvement with Donate Life California, she saw a film about organ recipients who meet their donor’s family.

A while later, she was going through some old things and found Shannon’s thank you card.

It had been four years since her daughter’s death and three years since Shannon wrote the letter.

Linda had initially coped with her loss by shutting out her grief.

“I had to be strong for my girls,” she said.

Holding Shannon’s card, Linda knew she was now ready to write back. And Shannon was happy to hear from her but also devastated by the circumstances surrounding her donor’s passing.

Emails followed and phone calls. Through their correspondence, Linda felt a connection.

“I just felt I had to meet her,” she said.

Although Linda got a thank-you letter from the recipient of her daughter’s liver, she never felt the urge to meet him.

There’s just something about the heart, though.

The sound it makes.

What it represents.

And so Linda made that request to hear her daughter’s heartbeat and meet the life saved by her daughter’s death.

A shared bond

As soon as Linda heard her daughter’s heartbeat — Shannon’s heartbeat — her nervousness disappeared and she relaxed.

Her two daughters also listened to Shannon’s heart and more tears were shed.

Unable to say goodbye just yet, they all left the conference room and had lunch at a T.G.I. Friday’s, where they told each other about their lives and families.

Upon hearing that Natalie was turning 11 in two days, Shannon and her friend Cindy Snell arranged to have the wait staff surprise her with a birthday treat of ice cream.

Throughout their conversation, Linda often reached for Shannon’s hand and held it tight.

“Thank you,” she’d say.

“Don’t thank me, thank you!” Shannon would reply.

“There are no words for my thanks. I’m just so happy I could do this for her.”

When they hugged each other goodbye in the parking lot, it was a warmer hug than the one shared in the conference room.

“We have a bond,” Shannon said.

For Linda, the visit has given her peace.

Before, she was determined to make sure Melanie’s memory lives on.

Now, she knows it will. Knows it is.

“She’ll always be remembered,” Shannon said. “With every beat of my heart, I’ll remember her.”