Leah Ozment heard her son’s heartbeat for the first time when he was in her womb. On her son’s 20th birthday, she traveled from Georgia to Indiana to hear that heartbeat in someone else’s chest.
Thomas Manning was only 19 years old when he died due to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.
On November 17th, 2022, I texted my best friend, Leah, for a gumbo recipe.
She called back hysterical, and in those seconds, everything changed.
I thought she was laughing; she was crying.
“Thomas has been in a wreck,” she told me.
Thomas had recently purchased a motorcycle. Leah had received a Life360 crash detection notification from Thomas’ phone. He was close to their home.
She left her home immediately and headed to the crash location, but Thomas was already hospital. She later told me that during that drive, she knew those would be her life’s last “normal” moments.
Twenty-five minutes later, she texted, “Worst case scenario is happening. I can’t say it. I’m putting my phone down.”
Thomas only had one injury, his brain. It was severe. Leah was told that he could remain on life support for a while, but the injuries to his brain would render him essentially a vegetable regardless of how long he remained on life support.
She took time to process this and to reflect on Thomas’ decision to be an organ donor.
Organ donation is challenging for the family of the donor. But Leah followed through with Thomas’ wishes, and LifeLink was called in to help assist.
Thomas Manning worked out…. a lot and watched what he ate….every meal. The doctors told Leah that his organs were in amazing condition and the recipients would all have long lives due to how good of a shape Thomas was in.
For the next two days, LifeLink reached out to find matches for Thomas’ organs. During this time, Leah and other family and friends would visit Thomas in the hospital room. Knowing the time was just a long, painful goodbye. He looked excellent, just like himself, except for the bandage on his head.
On November 19th, Leah and Thomas led an army of family and friends down the halls of Cartersville Medical Center. Thomas was rolled out, put into an ambulance, and transported to Piedmont Atlanta, where he would undergo a series of surgeries for organ harvesting.
Leah was left in the parking lot and found the strength to address the crowd of supporters, thanking them for loving her son.
Thomas would be in the hospital in Atlanta for two more days.
Leah said goodbye to her son on November 21st, the date of his donation.
Leah said she had peace knowing that Thomas, in his death, would save so many people. It was the weekend before Thanksgiving, and many families across the country would get a phone call that answered their prayers, “We have a match.”
Several weeks later, Leah decided she wanted to reach out to the recipients of Thomas’ organs. She selected the paper for the letters and wanted desperately to handwrite them, but tears smeared her words. She used a stylus to handwrite each letter on a pad and then print them on the paper.
At first, she couldn’t get beyond the greeting:
“Dear Kidney recipient,
I am Leah, the mother of Thomas, your donor…”
It took time, but she wrote each one.
And then she heard back from Thomas’ heart recipient. It was only a few weeks until Thomas’ 20th birthday, and she decided she needed to listen to his healthy, strong heartbeat again. To be reconnected.
She traveled to Indiana to meet the recipient and his family. “I’ve never been more proud of my Thomas; he is a hero.”
And she is too.