Dan Griffin invited more guests to his 64th birthday party in Elba, Nebraska: the family of the young woman who donated her heart to him two years ago.
"She wanted people to have better lives," Griffin said.
Griffin received the heart of Sarah Root in February 2016. Doctors declared Root, 21, brain-dead on Jan. 31, 2016.
"You have these two incredible stories. One is a tragedy and the other is a miracle and they come together as one," Sarah's mother, Michelle Root, said.
A drunk driver hit and killed Sarah Root hours after she graduated with a 4.0 from Bellevue University.
"Just a beautiful young girl. It makes me sick that she had to lose her life. She had so much going for her," Dan's wife, Peggy Griffin, said. "We've got part of her now, so we will keep her going."
At Dan's birthday party at the Elba Community Hall, Sarah's parents and her brother used a stethoscope to listen to Sarah's beating heart.
"All of a sudden, bump, bump, bump and instant tears," Michelle Root said. "It's real again."
"I can feel it inside. It's bringing out feelings and memories," Dan Griffin said. "I can feel it in the air, her presence is here."
It wasn't easy getting Sarah's heart. Elba is about a 2.5 hour drive from Omaha. They got the call after midnight in the middle of a blizzard.
"We had over 18 inches of snow and 60 mph winds and he said, ' I'm not gonna take it,' and I said, 'No Dan, go get ready. I'll get things figured out,'" Peggy Griffin said.
With the help of the Elba volunteer fire department, Howard County snow plow drivers, Nebraska Department of Roads and the Nebraska State Patrol, the Griffins followed the plows first in an SUV, then an ambulance to Omaha. I-80 was closed, but the NSP allowed the ambulance on the freeway. The trip took more than six hours.
"They wanted us there at 7:30 in the morning and we got there at 7:36," Peggy Griffin said.
Sarah's heart connected the two families, who say now they are one together.
"Blessed is the givers. She gave me this heart. Glad I took it," Dan Griffin said.
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