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Local heart transplant recipient meets family of donor

"It kind of gives you a sense of joy that somebody else can live because that donation was made," Andy Miller said.

ST. LOUIS — At the University City Farmer's Market, Chef Darren Garmer is serving up some of his specialties.

"Potato hash is very popular!" he said.

Garmer always uses plenty of spices but because of how he's feeling these days, his not so secret ingredient is gratitude.

"Completely resurrected," he said. "I know what it feels like to almost be dead. So I feel vibrant. I feel alive."

November 2019 was the worst month in Garmer's life.

"Mr. Garmer had suffered a very large heart attack, which damaged his heart beyond recovery," explained Washington University Physician Dr. Joel Schilling.

"So within a 45-day period, I went from being pretty strong and healthy to being almost dead," Garmer said. "And it was because the heart attack itself should, should have killed me."

A mechanical heart pump helped keep him alive, but what he really needed was a heart transplant.

300 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee, is where 30-year-old Cheston Miller was living. The IT specialist was also a talented musician.

"He could play a guitar left-handed or right-handed," said his dad Andy Miller. "And he could switch it around."

Music was a passion, but his parents say what he practiced most was compassion. In his early 20s for instance, he tried to donate a kidney to one of his father's childhood friends, but wasn't a match.

"He said 'What would a extra kidney do me, if I could save somebody's life?'" recalled Andy Miller.

Cheston Miller would end up saving someone's life after losing his.

In January of last year, Miller was killed after being struck by a car in front of his apartment. It turned out that Darren Garmer was a match for his donor heart.

That heart was beating a bit faster on this day, as Garmer got to meet his donor's family for the first time.

Miller's parents and brothers took turns putting a stethoscope to Garmer's chest, listening to his heart, which once belonged to Cheston. 

Garmer had written a thank you letter to the family in the hopes of this meeting one day. He only wished he could thank Cheston in person.

"I would just tell Cheston, thank you. I love you," an emotional Garmer said. "And you humbled me with the love that you have for humanity. And I will go forward sharing that love that we have with humanity and I'll do as much as I can to uplift people in my life."

From a scary diagnosis to a hopeful prognosis.

"At this point, we expect a very long happy life for Mr. Garmer after his transplant," Dr. Schilling said.

One man's gift bringing two families together for a memorable heart-to-heart.

"It kind of gives you a sense of joy that somebody else can live because that donation was made," Andy Miller said.

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