published Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Transplant patient reunites donor's heart, family

by Emily Bregel
Audio clip

Terry Mayo

Twenty-year-old Bayleigh Eblin-Lowe had the perfect wedding planned, except for one missing piece. Her father, who died nine years ago from a brain aneurysm, would not be there.

"It was the only thing Bayleigh was a little tender about. She didn't want anybody to walk her down the aisle," said her mother, Kelley Eblin, who had divorced Mark Eblin amicably a year before his death.

But in April the family learned that Mr. Eblin would be at the ceremony, at least symbolically. Terry Mayo, a 59-year-old retired mechanic from Ashland City, Tenn., received Mr. Eblin's heart in a 2001 transplant operation and was coming to Bayleigh's wedding.

  • photo
    Lorie Allison Photography Bayleigh Eblin and Terry Mayo

Mr. Mayo, a father of three, said he was overwhelmed with emotion when he received Bayleigh's wedding announcement in the mail last year. The Eblins hadn't expected that he'd want to attend a wedding hours away, but Mr. Mayo called the family a few weeks before the ceremony at Lupton Drive Baptist Church and asked to attend.

Somehow, two young girls he'd never met -- Bayleigh and her 16-year-old sister, Allison -- felt like kin to him, he said.

"They might not be blood relatives, but they feel just as close as a blood relative. I feel toward those two girls as though they were mine," he said. "I cried when all three of my children got married, and I cried when she come walking down that aisle, too."

Mr. Eblin, who had been a truck driver for Covenant Transport, died at age 41 on Feb. 4, 2001. Before his death, he and his daughters were inseparable. Every Sunday he and Mrs. Eblin-Lowe watched NASCAR races together, Mrs. Eblin recalled.

Mrs. Eblin-Lowe, a rising junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, even scheduled her wedding ceremony at 3 p.m. in honor of her dad's favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt -- No. 3.

"I so bad wanted my Daddy to be right beside me, telling me how beautiful I was, as he often did, and trying to calm my nerves before I walked down the aisle," wrote Mrs. Eblin-Lowe last week in an e-mail from her honeymoon in Jamaica. "Even though my dad couldn't be there, God gave me the next best thing ... his heart."

When Mr. Eblin died, he was not a registered donor, leaving the decision up to his family about whether his organs should be used to save other lives. But the family decided quickly he would have wanted to donate, Mrs. Eblin said.

Doctors transplanted Mr. Eblin's liver, two kidneys and his heart in four different people.


After two major heart attacks in his 40s, Mr. Mayo's heart was left irreparably damaged. He was put on the transplant list in 2000, 13 months before Mr. Eblin died.

At 5 a.m. that Sunday in 2001, Mr. Mayo was asleep at his home when he got the call that the hospital had a match. A heart was on the way from Chattanooga.

It was the third time Mr. Mayo had received such a call; the first two hearts ended up being too small. He tried to contain his hope on the drive to the hospital in Nashville, 22 miles away.

"It was still exciting when you get that call," he said. "You keep it in your mind at all times that somebody is going to have to die in order for me to live. It's a hard thing. Later on, you get the joy of knowing you're going to live because of that very special gift that someone else has given you."

In the weeks after his transplant, he penned two letters to the Eblin family. Both he tucked away without ever mailing them. He would write two more over the next few years, each time deciding against sending them.

"I was on the receiving end, the happy side. His family was on the loss side. You don't want to hurt no one," he said.


One person can help more than 50 people through organ and tissue donation.



* 2,307 Tennesseans need a transplant

* More than 106,000 Americans need a transplant

* 122 Tennesseans need a heart

Source: Tennessee Donor Services as of May 1

But when the Eblin family made contact through a letter in 2008, he was ecstatic. The families kept in touch through letters and phone calls up until Bayleigh's wedding.

The two families met for the first time at the rehearsal dinner last week.

"Him and my dad had a lot of similarities," Mrs. Eblin-Lowe wrote. "He just kept telling that I was part of his family and that I was welcome at his home any time."

To recognize both Mr. Mayo and her father at her May 8 wedding, Mrs. Eblin-Lowe stopped at Mr. Mayo's seat during her walk down the aisle and gave him a rose.

When they danced to the song "Unforgettable," during the reception, he talked to her the whole time, "just as my Daddy would have," she recalled.

Mrs. Eblin said the presence of Mr. Mayo and his wife at the wedding was a "blessing."

"We felt like we'd always known him, like he'd been a family friend," she said. "You can't get a better wedding gift than that."

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about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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Terry Mayo was very lucky to get a Heart transplant. Over 50% of Americans on the national waiting list will die before they get a transplant. Most of these deaths are needless. Americans bury or cremate 20,000 transplantable organs every year.

There is another good way to put a big dent in the organ shortage – if you don’t agree to donate your organs when you die, then you go to the back of the waiting list if you ever need an organ to live.

Giving organs first to organ donors will convince more people to register as organ donors. It will also make the organ allocation system fairer. About 50% of the organs transplanted in the United States go to people who haven’t agreed to donate their own organs when they die.

Anyone who wants to donate their organs to others who have agreed to donate theirs can join LifeSharers. LifeSharers is a non-profit network of organ donors who agree to offer their organs first to other organ donors when they die. Membership is free at or by calling 1-888-ORGAN88. There is no age limit, parents can enroll their minor children, and no one is excluded due to any pre-existing medical condition. LifeSharers has over 13,800 members, including 467 members in Tennessee.

Please contact me – Dave Undis, Executive Director of LifeSharers – if your readers would like to learn more about our innovative approach to increasing the number of organ donors. I can arrange interviews with some of our local members if you’re interested. My email address is My phone number is 615-351-8622.

May 16, 2010 at 11:33 a.m.
wolfJV said...

Organ donation is one of the most unselfish acts that a person and/or family can share at a time of pain and sorrow. Our daughter, Carrie, is 21 and celebrating her 13 year heart transplant anniversary this month. This is only due to the generosity of a family in Atlanta who, at a time of loss of their daugther, thought of how good could come of their pain. Their gift benefited 7 others who had life given back to them. Organ donation truly is the gift of life and we encourage you to sign up to be an organ donor today. Julianne Wolf

May 17, 2010 at 9:24 a.m.
mgillilan said...

I recieved a Heart on 2/4/2008, all I know about it is that it came from a 38 year old man. I have written the donor family a letter(this is done through Tn donor services) but have never heard back from them, which that is their choice to contact me back or not. some donor family's wish is to never know anything about who recieved the organs and I respect their wish. if by chance anyone is reading this that lost a loved one on Feb. 3rd or 4th 2008 and their organs were donated, please know that I am forever gratful and someday I would love to thank you in person. Melvin Gillilan

May 17, 2010 at 10:03 a.m.
OlgadeKlein said...

As a donor mother, I know the importance of giving the ultimate gift of life. My youngest son, Adrian Gomez, lost his life in a car accident in November of 2002. He donated his organs and thanks to his gifts, 4 people in Tennessee are now leading a normal life. I have become an avid spokesperson for the TN Donor Services. It is my wish that all citizens will make the decision to become organ donors and I will work diligently to inform all those interested in hearing about organ donation and especially dispel some of the myths that surround this topic. Adrian always shared of himself during the 20 years he was alive, and it is comforting to me to know that he is still sharing of himself. Olga de Klein

May 17, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.
CathySwafford said...

My son Adam was just 17 years old when he suddenly became ill and was told he needed a heart transplant. I thank God everyday that someone made the decision to donate the heart that was truly his gift of life. It's been 5 years since his transplant and he is doing very well. If you are undecided about organ donation, please get more information from TN Donor Services.

May 17, 2010 at 8:07 p.m.
livertpt said...

I received a liver and kidney in 2004 from a 28 year old man. I have sent and received letters from his family. They have given me so much more than they will ever know. My son was 4 at the time and they allowed me to be here with him a little longer. They gave the most unselfish gift anyone could ever give. The gift of life. If you have never thought about organ donation just contact donor services for information. As my son says you can be someone's hero.

May 17, 2010 at 10:23 p.m.
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