Debbie Stoner laid her head against the chest of a girl she had never before met and heard the beating heart that once had belonged to her little girl.
“The first time I heard Jade’s heart beating was when I was pregnant with her at my ultrasound scan,” the mother said. And the sound she was hearing inside 10-year-old Nellie-Mai Evans was “just as strong,” the woman told Caters.
“It gave me goosebumps.”
Stoner recently met Evans, and broke down afterward, sobbing with joy at seeing how well her daughter’s heart had served Nellie-Mai, who received it in a transplant at 10 months old.
Jade Stoner was 7 years old when she was hit by a car while riding her bike in front of her family’s home in Christchurch, Britain. The girl was left sprawled in the road, next to her crumpled bicycle.
Debbie knew her daughter was gone the minute she saw her damaged child. But on that afternoon 10 years ago, they rushed to the hospital, where doctors later told Debbie and her husband, John, that Jade was brain-dead.
The child remained on life support while her family gathered to say goodbye. She was surrounded by her 4-year-old sister, Amy, her 15-year-old stepbrother James, her grandparents and others.
Afterwards, Jade’s organs were given to others. Her liver went to a 17-month-old boy, her kidneys went to two men. But her heart went to Nellie-Mai, a baby born with cardiomyopathy who was lying in a hospital after suffering multiple heart attacks with no chance of survival without a transplant.
The baby had been abandoned by her parents and doctors had asked Jeff and Sarah Evans, who were foster parents, to sit with the girl so she didn’t have to die alone.
When the couple heard that Nellie-Mai couldn’t receive a transplant because she didn’t have a family, they became her foster parents.
And then 300 miles away, Jade was hit by a car.
“We only had the briefest of details,” said Jeff Evans. “A 7-year-old girl had died in a road accident. I was driving at the time. I pulled over onto the hard shoulder and broke down in tears.
“At that point,” he said, “it sunk in that someone had to lose a child in order for Nellie to live.”
After getting Jade’s heart, Nellie-Mai went from being gray and pallid to “a pink, healthy baby staring back at me,” Evans said.
“Without Jade, Nel would’ve been dead within a few days,” he said.
Over the years, Evans, a retired police detective, was able to track where his daughter’s new heart had come from.
And then Evans and Debbie Stoner decided to meet.
Debbie was gentle with Nellie-Mai, asking permission to give her a hug, snuggling with her on a couch, and listening to her heart – her daughter Jade’s heart – beating inside her chest.
“Thank you,” she told the little girl.