A Pennsylvania woman who was married at the weekend had her late father’s spirit with her — and his heart.

Jeni Stepien was escorted down the aisle by the man who received her father’s heart 10 years ago when her father was killed by a mugger.

His organs were donated after his death, and the recipient was Arthur Thomas, of New Jersey.

“I was on death’s door when he was murdered, and I needed a heart or I was going to be dying in the next few days,” Thomas said.

Stepien said she wanted her father to be a part of the ceremony at St Anselm church in Swissvale, and she felt that asking Thomas to walk her down the aisle was the perfect way.

After writing Thomas a letter, she met him on the eve of her wedding and felt her father’s heart beat for the first time in 10 years.

“I was just so thankful that my dad could be here with us today in spirit and a piece of his physical being as well. That was really special for us,” she said.

“It’s just like having my dad here and better because we get to share this story with people and other people see that organ donors do matter.”

On September 29, 2006, 53-year-old Michael Stepien was murdered while cutting through an alley and being robbed at gunpoint. He would never get to see his children grow up and get married.
On September 29, 2006, 53-year-old Michael Stepien was murdered while cutting through an alley and being robbed at gunpoint. He would never get to see his children grow up and get married.

Both Stepien and Thomas beamed as they walked down the aisle together.

The gesture also moved the groom, Paul Maenner, who said he was “overtaken with emotions” when he saw Stepien walking down the aisle.

Thomas said he can’t imagine a greater honour than escorting the daughter of the man who’s given him his heart.

Thomas said the early notice gave him time to prepare himself so he wouldn’t be “blubbering” as he walked her through the church.

“The last 10 years, I watched my children graduate from high school and college and I’m probably going to be able to see them get married,” he said. “And that same 10 years, Michael’s family went without him.

“I had a life to live because of him, and his family did not. It was important for me to do this very small thing for her.”

Stepien said her father, Michael Stepien, was on his way home from work one night in 2006 when he was shot and killed by a teenager during an attempted robbery in Swissvale, a borough outside Pittsburgh.

Thomas, 72, told CBS affiliate KDKA he was “on death’s door” when he received Michael’s heart. He said his own had been failing for years and, by 2006, he was suffering from congestive heart failure.

The last day in September, he said, Stepien’s family gave him a gift.


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