KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In 2008 John Shultz thought he was relatively healthy until his doctor told him a medication he took for diabetes caused serious heart problems and an enlarged heart.
For eight years, John managed those issues through lifestyle changes, but in 2017 he was on the heart transplant waiting list.
"They prepared me, they said that you may not live long enough for us to find a donor for you,” Shultz said.
It’s not what this energetic grandfather expected.
“So I prepared probably the most difficult conversation that I would have had in my life and that was to tell my grandsons that grandfather wasn`t going to be around for much longer,” Shultz said.
But within four days, John got the answer to his prayers, and nearly unprecedented news. He was getting the heart he needed.
“It was a perfect match, I`ve had no issues, no signs of rejection, no pain, no discomfort,” Shultz said.
While john was thrilled to get the life-saving transplant, he had to know who donated this heart.
He discovered it was a 24 year-old named Zach Graas.
“He was 24 at the time he passed, he had been told at age 18 that he had brain cancer,” Shultz said.
Shultz wrote Graas' family a thank you note, and hoped one day to thank his family in person.
“John`s letter was the first letter that we received, and it took me awhile to open it. I actually couldn`t read it- I had to have somebody read it to me,” Graas' mother, Dina, said.
Then one day, Shultz did meet Graas' family. He allowed his mother, Dina, to listen to Graas' heart beating strongly in his chest.
For Dina- knowing her witty, ambitious and talented son lives on through organ donation helps.
“It`s given me some sense of comfort, you know I guess with the whole thing,” Dina said.
“When your son dies, you know everything that`s happening on your end of things, but to hear other stories of what these other families went through at the same time we were dealing with our side and to see it evolve and see how Zach`s organs are still thriving- it kind of brings the whole thing full circle,” Dina said.
Shultz said having a friendship with Graas' family helps him feel closer to his donor.
“I wake up every morning with an appreciation of the people that made this possible for me," Shultz said.
People such as the young man who replaced Shultz's enlarged heart with his normal-sized, but better than average heart.
“He had a heart of gold, and I told John he got the best part,” Dina said.