TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Tom and Stephanie Dye share a very special connection. It starts with their father-daughter bond and extends down to the scar on both of their chests; it's a bittersweet reminder that they are both alive today because of someone else's heart.
"It's my badge of courage and it also starts up different conversations as well," said Stephanie.
The Dyes have quite the story to tell. Tom's illness came on suddenly over Memorial Day weekend 2007. Six months later and only months left to live, Tom was fast-tracked to the top of the transplant list. A few days later he got a new heart.
No one would've ever imagined that three years later and just one week after her 18th birthday, Stephanie would need a heart, too.
"When my dad had to go through it, first there was terror and fear of not knowing what was going to happen. That was probably the hardest thing. So him having his transplant first greatly impacted my experience because we were okay, we already knew the drill," said Stephanie.
But their heart transplants also came with a painful reality. It's hard for Tom and Stephanie to get past the fact that they're alive because of someone else's loss. The thought still makes Stephanie cry, even after all these years.
"My donor's name is Riley. He was 12 years old, so it's a little different," said Stephanie.
Tom has a 42-year-old man named Carl to thank for his life. He remembers Carl's generosity every time he hears his heart beat.
"If I ever want to listen to Carl, I just turn my head on the pillow and I can hear [the hearbeat] a little more on the left side than the right side. I'll occasionally have conversations with him," said Tom.
Five years after his transplant, Tom got the opportunity to meet Carl's mom and say, "Thank you." It's an experience he will never forget.
"She came over and stuck her head up against my chest and took one of those sighs. And says, 'I get to hear him again,'" said Tom.
Tom and Stephanie are grateful for their second chance at life and every year they celebrate their heart-a-versaries on the day they each got their new heart.
"We always get together every year and celebrate that and just relive and retell stories all the good ones all the bad ones. It's just nice to have a reminder of all the people and all the support we have in our lives," said Stephanie.
It's their beautiful way of celebrating life and honoring the two donors who gave them a piece of theirs.