A groom in Alaska was able to surprise his bride-to-be with an incredibly precious gift: meeting the young man who received her son's heart.
Two years ago, in 2015, Becky Turney lost her son Triston when he was just 19 years old. The devastated family took some comfort in the fact that Triston was a registered organ donor and was able to save five other lives.
Fast-forward to last week, as Becky prepared for her wedding to longtime love Kelly Turney. Little did she know that Kelly had secretly reached out to 21-year-old Jacob Kilby, the man who now has Triston's heart.
Photographer Amber Lanphier captured the sweet moments when Kelly paused the ceremony to introduce the "mystery" sixth groomsman, Kilby.
If the photos are any indication, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
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Channel 2 caught up with the Turneys and Kilby in Alaska via phone to hear their incredible story:
"I couldn't wrap my arms around him fast enough," Becky remembered. "You can't put it into words. It's immense joy. That's the coolest thing about the pictures. If you look at (them), it says it all. Total surprise, complete joy. My world was as complete as it could be."
Jacob Kilby was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and had his first heart transplant at age 2. His health took a turn for the worse around the time he was finishing high school and he was once again put on the transplant list.
Kilby received his new heart in 2015, shortly after Triston's death. It would be another year before the two families connected through a donor aftercare program.
In March, Kelly arranged for Kilby and Becky to talk on the phone as a birthday surprise. The two hit it off so well Kelly decided to see if Kilby was game to fly from California to Alaska for the couple's wedding this summer. Kilby jumped at the chance.
Becky's family was able to keep the visit a secret from her until the perfect moment. Then, after the ceremony was over, she finally got the chance to hear her son's heartbeat again in person.
"That whole day, I couldn't understand why I couldn't stop crying," Becky says of the hours leading up to the ceremony. "Now I know why. My son's presence was there."
For Kilby, there was no question about whether or not he would attend the wedding.
"As soon as Kelly called me and told me what his plan was, I was on board. No hesitation," he said. "Giving that to her was awesome to experience. Knowing that I was able to help her turn that gift into something incredibly special for her in return was amazing."
No one expected that the photos would go viral as quickly as they did.
Kelly says that he hopes that what he originally intended to be a gift of healing for his wife and 13-year-old stepdaughter can spur other people to consider organ donation and help other donor/recipient families to consider connecting.
"It's the most selfless act you can do for another person," Kelly said. "And we would encourage other families of donors and recipients to reach out, because there's a lot of healing that goes on."
Becky and Kilby both say that there is a unique bond between a recipient and donor family.
"I really hope that people realize the depth of connection and healing power these relationships have," Becky said.
"It's an everlasting bond," Kilby agreed.
For Becky, remembering the kind of person Triston was makes the gift he gave Kilby that much more special.
"(Triston) was a guardian to all of his friends. He was the kid who stuck up for the underdog..." she said. "He lived every day like it was his last. He lived more in his 19 years than most of us do in a lifetime."
Cox Media Group