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Her son died. Two decades later, she met the medical student who got his heart

The young man handed her a stethoscope, opened his shirt, and pointed to where she should place it. Hesitantly, she reached forward, pressed it to his skin, and broke into tears.

The heart Elisabeth Tilly heard inside the chest of a 25-year-old stranger was the same that once beat inside her son. Christopher, age 8, was killed more than two decades ago, by a truck barreling through a crosswalk in front of his elementary school. But the memory of her grievously injured son lying in a Salt Lake City hospital is still raw.

A few doors down from Christopher, 4-year-old Jon Hochstein was fighting for his life. His heart had enlarged, damaged beyond repair, perhaps by a passing virus, or just bad luck. His family wasn’t sure he would make it through the night.

Tilly didn’t want to donate Christopher’s organs. He’d need them in heaven, she thought. But then she saw Hochstein’s tiny legs poking out from under the sheets.

She decided that this little boy needed Christopher’s heart more than he did.

Over the years, though both families thought about each other often, they never connected.

The Hochsteins soon moved to Northern Virginia, so Jon’s dad, David, could take a new job.

Tilly, divorced from Christopher’s father, quickly relocated to avoid the pain of seeing the places where her son had played ball and gone to school. She never knew whether the little boy who received her son’s heart had lived or died.


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Photo of Elisabeth Tilly and Jon Hochstein courtesy of Pen Federal Credit Union

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