Parents feel son's heart beat again
More than four years ago Dakarai Tucker's family and friends said their final goodbyes to the popular teenager, who died as a result of a brain aneurysm.
But on Saturday, Dakarai's parents felt their son's heart beating again.
Part reunion and part first meeting, the Tucker family met New Jersey student Ryan Miller, whose life was saved after he received Dakarai's heart in a transplant.
Surrounded by Dakarai's friends and family during a visit to Warwick Academy, where Dakarai was a student, Mr Miller said: “I have never felt better than I have today. I honestly have never felt better.”
While walking between a cedar tree planted in his honour and the school field, which is named in part after Dakarai, the group paused briefly and Dakarai's mother Dawna and father Stephen rested their hands on Mr Miller's chest and felt their son's heart beat.
Mrs Tucker said: “It sent chills through my body that there was my son's heart beating right there.
“I felt overwhelmed, but good. It was very emotional for me, to feel that beat and know it was Dakarai's heart.”
The story of Dakarai and Mr Miller began in 2007 when 16-year-old Ryan, from New Jersey, was referred to a cardiologist after struggling with pneumonia and bronchitis.
“She [the cardiologist] left the room and came back saying I have to be rushed to the hospital straight away,” Mr Miller said. “Eventually I ended up at Newark Beth Israel, which is the hospital that saved my life.”
He was diagnosed with a serious heart abnormality known as a Non-Compactive Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which greatly diminishes the hearts ability to pump blood, causing the heart muscle to enlarge and eventually fail.
On New Year's Eve doctors attempted to implant an internal defibrillator, but Mr Miller's heart would not restart. He was placed on an external ventricular assist device, called a Bi-VAD, and left waiting for a new heart.
“They didn't wake me up until a couple of days later,” Mr Miller said. “It wasn't just waiting, it was going and getting tests and trying medication.”
On January 14, while doctors in Newark battled to save Mr Miller's life, here in Bermuda Dakarai was at school at Warwick Academy when he began to suffer a headache and nausea.
The teenager's parents were called but before they could reach the school Dakarai, who played for the National Football Team, had collapsed and was rushed to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Within hours he was medevacked off the Island to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
It was then discovered that a blood vessel in his brain had ruptured, and doctors were unable to operate because Dakarai's brain was too swollen.
On January 25, after two weeks in a coma, Dakarai died, and his family made the decision to donate his organs.
The next day Mr Miller was told that he was going to get a new heart.
“They didn't really tell me anything. I knew that it came from Maryland, that's all I knew,” he said.
The transplant was a success and on February 15 Mr Miller was released from the hospital. While he described returning home after 52 days in hospital as “the most incredible feeling in the world,” he said he still had another goal he wanted to accomplish.
Just like Dakarai, Mr Miller wanted to play football.
“My goal was to play soccer, football, in my senior year,” he said. “It was hard knowing that I had limits. I had a no workout regime. I had to warm up and then cool down after.
“I did get to play. I knew I was a captain before I was even in the hospital. I kind of felt that I had to make it. I had to be there with my team. We actually won the County Championship.”
It was through that shared love of football that the Tucker family learned about Mr Miller. The summer after Dakarai's death, his uncle attended a football tournament in New Jersey and discovered that Dakarai's heart had been given to another footballer.
On Friday, more than four years after Dakarai's passing, Mr Miller, along with his parents Richard and Danielle Miller, arrived on the Island to meet the Tucker family and film a documentary about his life following the transplant.
During the visit to Warwick Academy, Jane Vickers, Warwick Academy's director of development, came by to meet Mr Miller, giving him a Warwick Academy shirt and inviting him to address the student body before he leaves the Island this afternoon.
Throughout the experience Mr Miller said he was amazed by how warmly he had been greeted by so many people.
“It's incredible,” Mr Miller said. “Meeting his family and his teachers and having them embrace me, it's the most incredible feeling ever.”
After spending just a short time with the Tucker family, he said he hopes to develop and maintain a lasting relationship, and possibly return to the Island when his studies allow.
Meanwhile, Mrs Tucker said the entire experience has been a positive one, saying that meeting Mr Miller has helped her get a little more closure.
“It felt good to get to know the person who has Dakarai's heart,” she said. “We feel that we are now one big happy family.
“It was some closure that we did want to feel. We did want to know him, and now we have got that closure. We have seen him and his family and we like them.”