West Milford: Heart Transplant Recipient Meets Donor’s Family

Source: West Milford Messenger

After Rich Grehl’s successful heart transplant surgery in Dec. 2022, he hoped to one day learn the name of his donor and to meet his family — which doesn’t occur often.

Nevertheless, his wish came true Thursday, Nov. 9, when Grehl, 63, of the Hewitt section of West Milford met the family of Billy Moon at the headquarters of LiveOnNY, an organ donation advocacy and planning group.

Moon, a New York City firefighter, died Dec. 20, 2022, at age 47 a week after a training accident in Brooklyn. In keeping with his career of saving lives, Moon had signed up to be an organ donor.

He saved the lives of five people who were in desperate need of a heart, liver, lungs and kidneys; they included two fellow firefighters.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day for almost a year, wanting to express my condolences for this family’s loss and thank them for this beautiful gift of life,” Grehl said after the meeting. “Not a day went by when I didn’t think of the person and family, wondering who they were.

“The realization of learning whose heart was beating in my chest, giving me life, and meeting their family was surreal, sort of completing the circle of life,” he said.

During the highly emotional meeting, Kristina Moon listened to her husband’s heart, using a stethoscope against Grehl’s chest, for the first time since his death. So did his daughter, Brianne, 11, and son, Colin, 9, along with Moon’s parents.

“Knowing whose heart is giving me the gift of life and meeting his family was amazing, another dream come true,” Grehl said. “Billy’s family is fantastic, and they loved him and miss him greatly. He is a true hero in so many ways. I’m the vessel that, in a way, keeps Billy alive for his family.

“Kristina listened for the heartbeat in my chest first through the stethoscope. Life was there through her husband’s heart. The room was silent, you could hear a pin drop. Kristina said it was like listening to a baby’s heart for the first time.

”We are grateful and in awe of Rich’s health and decision to be a part of today,” Kristina said. “Billy was always our hero at home, and these moments continue to confirm that he is a hero to others as well. He is our forever hero.”

When meeting Kristina, Grehl hugged her and said, “’Hello, I’m Rich — in more ways than one.’ Thank you so much.”

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