Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach welcomed two very special guests last month. One of them—Laumonth Jack from Baton Rouge, Louisiana—had just been given a new lease on life after receiving a heart transplant. The other—Bill Conner of Madison, Wisconsin—had just ridden his bicycle across the country to cope with the death of his 20-year-old daughter Abigail Mae, who unexpectedly died in January.
It was a meeting of the heart, you could say, because Abigail Mae was a registered organ donor, and Jack was the grateful recipient. It was, to put it mildly, an emotional reunion. When Sonesta Fort Lauderdale Beach learned of their imminent arrival, the Culture of Caring committee offered each of the men a generous package that dramatically defrayed their costs.
Theirs is a story of surmounting the insurmountable. Jack, also a mere 20 years old himself, had been diagnosed with a viral infection in his heart that would lead to his death if he did not receive a new organ. Conner had suffered an unimaginable loss. Learning that his daughter and Jack were a match made saying goodbye “a little bit easier,” he says. Soon after she passed, Conner threw himself into a 2,600-mile pilgrimage that he said he took “one day at a time.” But the cycling was not only for him. It was to raise awareness of the life-saving urgency of becoming an organ donor, his way of “carrying Abbey’s name forward.” And so his healing journey became “Abbey’s Ride for Life.”
Conner left Madison on May 22 and arrived in Fort Lauderdale on July 10, coasting to his finish line at the Broward Medical Center where Abbey had been transported all those months ago to begin the donation process, in cooperation with the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency. But Fort Lauderdale was not the first place where Conner and Jack met. En route on Father’s Day, the cyclist arranged a stop in Baton Rouge. There, in front of Jack’s grateful family, the men embraced. And Conner donned a stethoscope … so he could listen to his daughter’s heart.