WILMINGTON — Two families became one Saturday — not through a wedding, but through the gift of life and answered prayers.
Shelby and Tom LaPine’s son, Luke, a county employee, fell off a pickup truck after being struck by a sign and later died in June of last year, when he was 19. He had graduated two weeks earlier from East Clinton High School and intended to go to college in California with the goal of becoming a Los Angeles Police Department detective.
When he first got his driver’s license, he signed up as an organ donor, a decision that would affect, and save, the lives of many people.
More than 70 of Luke’s organs have been donated to people and saved at least seven lives all over the country, but his heart went to Columbus, to a man named Bill Repp.
Shelby, Tom and Bill and his wife, Carla Repp, met Saturday at Wilmington Church of God. Shelby, Tom and others listened to Luke’s heart with a stethoscope. Many members of both families and those gathered at the church cried during the union.
“Beautiful sound, isn’t it?” Shelby said.
Shelby described the moment she saw Bill and heard Luke’s heartbeat once again as “awesome” and “an answered prayer.”
“I prayed for that day since June 13, 2014, and I knew it would happen, I just knew it,” she said.
Carla said Bill felt bittersweet about receiving Luke’s heart because Luke’s life lay ahead of him and Bill had lived so much of his own.
Bill said he had to come to Wilmington to meet Shelby and Tom, who live in New Vienna.
“We’re family now,” he said.
“I couldn’t imagine having a family that didn’t know what happened to their son,” Bill said. “God has an answer and a reason for everything. There’s no way I could let them go without knowing anything.”
Bill also said that because of Luke’s organ donation, “I have a life now.”
“If something happened to one of my kids, or any of my family, I would want to know,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine not knowing.”
Bill said he was sick in 2004 and had to have a defibrillator installed. By 2007, doctors told him he would eventually need a heart transplant.
Carla described Bill’s condition as having an enlarged, weakened heart that only pumped about 10 percent of the blood it needed to.
Other devices were installed over the years, but Bill’s condition worsened.
He couldn’t walk, his family had to move his legs for him and he got an infection from one of his surgeries.
Doctors were talking about placing him in a hospice shortly before he received Luke’s heart.
Bill and Carla’s 16-year-old daughter, Amy, counts Luke’s donation as one of the family’s blessings.
Amy, Carla and Bill intend to take Live for Luke — the organ donor drive Shelby and Tom began — to Columbus to get others to sign up as organ donors.
In addition to savings lives, Tom said it’s important to sign up because many who do have their organs declined, and Bill added that blood type can be a limiting factor for many donors.
Both Luke and Bill had B- blood. According to the American Red Cross, only about 2 percent to 0.4 percent of people, ranging based on ethnicity, have B- blood in the U.S.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.