HEALTH

Utah mom, transplant recipient meets family of organ donor

Mar 23, 2024, 6:59 PM

SALT LAKE CITY Ashley Stewart is a proud mom who shares the heart of another mother.  

In 2017, she was having lunch with a friend when she started noticing something was wrong.  

“My abdomen was really heavy and I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t walk back to the car,” she said. “Later that night I looked down and I noticed that my ankles were swollen.”  

After a quick Google search, she decided to go to the hospital, where they ran tests.  

“The nurse sat me down and said that I was having a minor heart attack and they had to admit me,” she said.  

Stewart was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that can lead to heart failure.  

Ashley Stewart was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that can lead to heart failure.  Eventually, she would get a new heart, and on Saturday she met the family of the woman who donated the heart. (Ashley Stewart family)

Since she was a healthy 26-year-old, her doctors figured medication would do the trick.  

But two years ago, at age 31, she had a stroke.  

“I was just so sick,” she said. “My heart was so weak.”  

Going on a transplant list

She was immediately put on the transplant list.  

“They listed me on a Tuesday, then on Wednesday they said they were thinking about putting me on life support,” she said. “I just kept having a feeling – if I can wait until Friday, if I can make it until Friday, then something will happen and everything will be okay. And then Friday is when my surgeon came to my room and offered me my new heart.”  

The next day, Stewart underwent a successful operation.  

It wasn’t until more than a year later that she found out her new heart had belonged to 43-year-old Raquel Colucci, who tragically passed away due to a brain hemorrhage while she and her husband were visiting Las Vegas.  

“It made her a real person with a name and a family and that was very hard for me,” Stewart said.  

Stewart knew she wanted to someday meet Raquel’s husband, Gino, and her daughter, Melody, and thank them for their selfless gift.  

That someday – happened Saturday.  

For the first time, Stewart and her family met Gino and Melody Colucci. The heartfelt reunion took place at the Celebration of Life Monument in Salt Lake City.  

“We were just so excited to meet them,” Gino Colucci said. “Leading up to this point was an explosion of emotions.” 

Those emotions ran high as Gino and Melody took turns listening to Raquel’s heart – that now lives in Ashley – and Ashley introduced Gino and Melody to her husband and 4-month-old daughter, Jane Raquel, named after her heroic donor.  

“She cared about other people so much; she always put other people before herself,” said 21-year-old Melody Colucci. “I don’t know if a mother has ever loved her child more than my mom loved me.”  

“I know that the thing she wanted most in life was to be a good mom and so that’s really important to me too,” Stewart said. “I’m thankful for her for allowing me to be able to do that.” 

If you’re interested in learning more about organ donation or want to sign up to become an organ donor, visit DonorConnect.life 

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Utah mom, transplant recipient meets family of organ donor