'It's their daughter's heartbeat. It lives on': A transplant rec - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

'It's their daughter's heartbeat. It lives on': A transplant recipient's gift to donor family

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Alyssa Sandeen with the teddy bear that has the recording of her heartbeat (Photo credit: Pat Christman / Mankato Free Press) Alyssa Sandeen with the teddy bear that has the recording of her heartbeat (Photo credit: Pat Christman / Mankato Free Press)
Mayo Clinic Health System staff recording Sandeen's heartbeat (Photo credit: Pat Christman / Mankato Free Press) Mayo Clinic Health System staff recording Sandeen's heartbeat (Photo credit: Pat Christman / Mankato Free Press)
Sandeen underwent her first heart transplant when she was just 8 years old Sandeen underwent her first heart transplant when she was just 8 years old
Sandeen then underwent her second transplant in 2013 Sandeen then underwent her second transplant in 2013
Jennifer Leekley (left) with her late daughter, Katlyn, who donated her heart to Sandeen Jennifer Leekley (left) with her late daughter, Katlyn, who donated her heart to Sandeen

A woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver can now hear her daughter's heartbeat once again, thanks to a special gift from the organ recipient.

Mankato native Alyssa Sandeen suffered from cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle is abnormal.

"My heart was enlarging. But they don't know if it was a virus or I was born with it," Sandeen said.

Her condition required her to undergo her first heart transplant in 1998, when she was just 8 years old. But after 15 years, that heart was beginning to fail. So on June 27, 2013 at Mayo Clinic, Sandeen received a new heart that was donated by 20-year-old Katlyn Leekley, who was killed by a drunk driver.

"I really want to thank my donor family. There are not enough words or ways I can thank them for what they've done," said Sandeen.

On Saturday, Aug. 26, Sandeen met Katlyn's mom, Jennifer, for the first time in Illinois. 

"I started bawling. I hugged the mom. I hugged the mom's [other] daughter and the little girl, and their son was there too," recalled Sandeen.

To thank Jennifer for Katlyn's heart, Sandeen gave her a special gift: a teddy bear with a recording of Alyssa's heartbeat.

"When you take it out and you hear it, she started bawling and it was very amazing for her to be able to have this thing with her," said Sandeen. "It's their daughter's heartbeat. It lives on. It's still beating and letting them know as long as I'm here, that heartbeat's there, and I will take good care of this and live as long as I can with it."

Sandeen recorded her heartbeat on Friday, Aug. 25 at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato -- an experience she and Jennifer can now share for a lifetime.

"I'm just so thankful and grateful that I was able to give her a gift like that," said Sandeen. "I mean, it's the least I can do after all that her and her family have done for me."    

Because of the medication Sandeen had to take for her heart, she also suffered kidney failure. So she got a new kidney from her mom, Lisa.

Sandeen said she wants to become an advocate for organ donation and be involved with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Photos of Sandeen recording her heartbeat are courtesy of Pat Christman and the Mankato Free Press.

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