SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Trisha Smith has always desired to meet the family of a teenager that gifted her a new life more than two years ago.
When that opportunity came knocking last spring, Smith answered. Everything that happened thereafter between she and the mother of the young man that gifted her his kidney is difficult for the Wilmont woman to put into words.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole life,” Smith said. “God works through people, and God worked through us that day.”
The Wilmont woman and Michelle Lee - the mother of the late Connor Lee Glynn, who died at age 19 - met one another for the first time in April at a Sanford symposium in Sioux Falls, S.D. Exactly two years since Glynn’s accidental heroin overdose and Smith’s kidney transplant, Lee and Smith met with a hug and tears.
“We hugged and there was just a connection there,” Smith said. “It was so powerful. It was truly amazing.”
Smith also got to meet Connor’s younger brother, Ben Markgraf, and stepfather, Steve Markgraf, of Michigan. Her boyfriend Kerry Zinnel also went along for support.
The symposium not only allowed donors or donors’ families to meet with organ recipients, but it also provided a platform to share their stories surrounded by doctors and nurses.
Smith said from day one of receiving Glynn's kidney, she knew she wanted to meet his family to show her gratitude for the donation.
Having lived all her life with a birth defect that caused her kidney and bladder to cross, Smith said that it is because of Glynn that she got to experience what life feels like with a regularly functioning kidney.
“I feel 150 percent,” Smith said of the relief she’s experienced since her kidney transplant in 2016. “I didn’t know I was that sick.”
Working alongside Sanford personnel, Smith was able to get contact information for the family. Although she was eager to show her gratitude, the words did not come easy.
“I wrote a four-page letter, front and back,” she said. “It took me a couple of days to do it - it was very hard.”
But with the support of her aunt Nancy Vaske - who was Smith’s appointed support person throughout the transplant phase - she got the letter out and waited to see if she’d hear anything back.
At the time, Glynn’s family was undergoing sadness and grief over their loss. However, receiving Smith’s letter provided the family a glimpse in what they’d hoped for when faced with a difficult decision in the hospital room.
“Something good needs to come out of this,” Lee remembers telling Glynn’s doctor as he was on life support.
The doctor’s face lit up when Lee asked if his organs could be donated. That donation, Lee says, was a choice her son made on his own when he identified he wanted to be an organ donor on his driver’s license.
“Connor’s death would give others a chance at a new, healthier life,” Lee said in an online testimony about what gave the family hope during their experience with grief.
As for Smith, her personal experience has taught her one thing above all else - the importance of expressing thanks and gratitude and of organ donation.
Of numerous individuals Glynn helped, Smith has been the only one to personally reach out to the family, Lee said.
While Smith admitted that there’s no right or wrong time to show gratitude, she is disappointed that others had not reached out to Glynn’s family.
To her surprise, her gesture resulted in yet another gift from the Lee/Glynn family.
Before the two parted ways after their weekend together in Sioux Falls, Lee gave Smith a framed photo of Glynn and a clay mold of his handprint, which was molded before he was taken off life support.
Smith now displays the framed picture and clay handprint in her bedroom. She surrounds them by figurine angels, a constant reminder of what Glynn’s gift to her meant.
“The true heroes of this whole thing is Connor and his family, and I was so very grateful for this wonderful, healthier life,” she said.
As for the Lee family, seeing the impression Glynn’s donation made on countless friends and family who checked the organ donor box when it came time to renew their license has also made a positive impact.
“Connor lives on through a legacy of giving and kindness that continues to touch so many hearts,” Lee said.