Investigators: Heart to heart - KMSP-TV

Investigators: Heart to heart

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Feb. 14 isn't just Valentine's Day. It's also National Donor Day, and the gift of organ donation gave an Edina a second chance at life -- and led him to love.

In 2005, a then-17-year-old Connor Rabinowitz was an aspiring baseball player waiting for a heart transplant. He was being recruited by Division One schools when doctors told him he would die without a donor.

Doctors installed a 3-pound metal pump in Rabinowitz's chest to do what his heart could not while he waited.

Kellen Roberts was a Seattle native and a free spirit who drove his red truck all over the country and lived life spontaneously on his own terms. On March 7, 2005, Roberts was on a trip in Sioux Falls, S.D., when he hit his head in a freak accident and died far from home -- but not far from Minneapolis.

He was an organ donor, and also a match for Rabinowitz -- but when he received the donor heart, no one knew such a strong bond would bloom from that generosity.

Rabinowitz was so grateful he wrote a letter to Roberts' mother, saying he simply needed to know more about the man who saved his life.

"I saw Kellen's picture, and it was, you know, very mixed emotions," Rabinowitz said. "I was so grateful but so … I'd give it back in a second."

Doctors may describe the heart as a pump or an organ without mentioning love, but every heartbeat inside Rabinowitz resonates with a special significance.

A year after the transplant. Rabinowitz traveled to Seattle to visit the Roberts family. That's where a new use for his new heart came into light almost immediately.

"He hugged my mother first and we were kind of staring at each other over my mom's shoulder," said Roberts' sister, Erin.

Since that first meeting, she has helped Rabinowitz come to terms with the fact that he is alive although another is not by sewing heart-shaped pillows as a reminder of how fragile life can be. Although she usually gives the things she makes away, she keeps those tokens in a jar for the two of them because the heartbeat she loves dearly belonged once to her own flesh and blood.

"It's priceless to know that a part of something you loved so much can continue on -- but not just continue on existence, but be the life force of someone else, be the thing that is keeping him alive," she said. "To know someone I loved can do that, I don't know there's any words to describe that."

Rabinowitz would visit every year until it became too much to bear. Eventually, he told her how he felt and the two now live together.

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