Gift of transplanted heart keeps Orangevale teen's memory alive

02/15/2013 12:00 AM

02/17/2013 12:32 PM

Nearly two years ago, Casandra Campbell was fighting for her life. For six days, the Campbell family kept a solemn vigil around her bed at Kaiser Roseville. The 19-year-old had accidentally overdosed on prescription medication.

Casandra, or Cassie as she was known to friends and family, was brain dead. But a year earlier, she had signed on to become an organ donor.

"We were praying for our daughter to survive," said Cassie's father, Dave Campbell. "And in some way, she did."

Today, Casandra lives on. Her organs have saved the lives of five people. But the choice to be a donor especially touched Gabby Preap, who received Cassie's heart 12 hours after she died in April 2011.

On Valentine's Day, the Campbells and Preap united in Roseville to thank nurses and doctors who helped make the transplant possible. The Campbells were overcome with emotion, as they exchanged hugs and wiped their tears, introducing Preap to the staff that took care of Cassie.

"She got the gift of life from our daughter," said Dave Campbell, hugging a teary-eyed Preap. "That's the beauty of it all."

"It's a new beginning," said Preap, 23, of Long Beach.

Nearly two years ago, Preap was on the cusp of death. At age 17, she had contracted a heart virus. Doctors told her that without a transplant, she had little more than two years to live.

"I felt myself dying," she said. "My chest was hurting, and I couldn't breathe."

She had gone 2 1/2 years without a transplant. But what was happening with Cassie in Roseville changed that.

"I started crying," said Preap, recalling the phone call from the donor coordinator. "It's one of those feelings where you've been waiting and waiting, but at the same time, someone is dying."

Back in Roseville, the Campbell family was struggling to come to grips with Cassie's impending death. But they were ready to fulfill the wishes of their daughter.

Nationwide, 117,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant. There are 1,300 people awaiting an organ in the 11 Northern California counties served by Sierra Donor Services, the agency that matched Cassie with Preap.

Many don't live to receive a transplant, said Tracy Bryan, Sierra Donor Services spokeswoman.

"On Valentine's Day, it is very important that people think about giving the gift of life – being a donor," Dave Campbell said.

Thursday wasn't the first time the Campbells and Preap have bonded. They have shared a funnel cake at Santa Monica Pier and visited New Mexico for a donor conference.

"I take a lot of comfort," said Brittany Campbell, Cassie's younger sister. "Gabby's not my sister, but I feel like she's always going to be there with me. We're just connected."

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