Brooke Eaton was overcome with emotion when she heard her son's heart beat again inside the chest of 16-month-old Lola Bond.
"I could feel my son," Eaton said. "His heartbeat was so pure."
Cazmirr "Cash" Landers was an outgoing 2-year-old who wanted to travel the world by tricycle, his mother said. He never met a stranger and was fond of sharing things with the people around him.
When Cash died in a drowning last year, Eaton decided to donate his organs in the hope that his legacy would live on.
Eaton's selfless choice saved Lola's life when she was 5 months old. On Wednesday, Eaton was able to hear his heartbeat through Lola for the first time.
"As soon as I walked in the room, it was very overwhelming," Eaton said. "I saw her, and I just broke down and cried."
The single mom and her 4-year-old daughter, Cierra, traveled from their home in Pekin, Illinois, this week to meet Lola at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, where the girl is receiving treatment.
"Lola seemed to have an instant connection with her," said Lola's grandmother Margaret Bond Vorel. "The moment Brooke held her, Lola just melted into her chest."
Lola's road to recovery
Lola was born with a rare condition called pediatric cardiomyopathy. When she was 16 days old, the family learned that she was in heart failure and in need of life-saving transplant.
Vorel still remembers the exact moment they found Lola a match: 4 p.m. Monday, September 3, 2018.
"I really didn't believe it. At first, I though they were kidding," Vorel said.
Throughout the surgery, Vorel said, her heart was with Eaton, thinking about the great grief she was experiencing.
Thanks to Cash's heart, Lola is now doing wonderfully, according to Vorel. She will remain on anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life, but doctors expect her to make a full recovery and have a normal childhood. However, down the road, Lola will probably need another heart transplant.
Vorel says she cannot emphasize the importance of organ donation enough.
She has documented Lola's journey on her Facebook page, Lola's Rockstars. She wants families to know that although the transplant process can be scary, they are not in it alone.
Two families are joined together
Donor families and recipients do not always meet like this. Vorel was provided guidelines for writing a thank you letter to Eaton, in which she indicated that she would love to meet someday.
Now, Vorel feels like she's known Eaton her whole life.
"Because of her great decision, we have Lola," Vorel said.
The two families have planned to get together this year to celebrate the holidays.
"She will be a big part of our life from here on out," Vorel said. "Cash can live on inside of Lola."