OUR SISTER’S HEART LIVES ON IN MAX
One family’s painful decision has given this courageous boy a second chance at life
Holding a stethoscope to little Max Johnson’s chest, Joe Ball wipes away tears as he hears his daughter Keira’s heart beat for the first time since her tragic death.
The train fitter then embraces the 10-year-old, sealing a bond that will never be broken. “Now I know what the donation has done for him, it brings it all home, this is the real person,” Joe, 35, tells Woman’s Day. “It feels like such a big part of Keira is in Max now.”
Joe’s world came crashing down in July last year when he heard his wife Loanna and two of his kids – Keira and Bradley, then nine and seven – had been involved in a serious car crash near their home in Barnstaple, Devon, in England.
Joe arrived at the hospital to find Loanna and Bradley fighting for their lives, and Keira in a critical condition after suffering serious head injuries. Three days later, while Loanna was still in and out of consciousness, a doctor delivered the devastating news there was nothing more he could do for Keira.
Inspired by his “little princess”, Joe and his other daughters – Keely, 13, and 12-year-old Katelyn – made the agonising decision to donate Keira’s organs.
“She was the most loving child you could ever wish to meet,” Joe says. “She would give anything to help anyone. When they came to ask me about organ donation, I knew it was what Keira would have wanted.”
This selfless decision ended up saving the lives of four people – including Max who’d been waiting 196 days to have his heart replaced after it was severely damaged due to cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the heart to enlarge.
“Max was in danger of imminent death,” his mum Emma says. “And Keira’s heart could not wait to start beating. He was lucky to have a second chance.”
After his surgery success, Max penned a thank you card to his then anonymous donor family.
“You have saved my life and it is very hard to put that in to words. Words are not enough. It is special to be able to say thank you in person,” he wrote.
And his heartfelt wish came true in April when the Ball family travelled to Max’s home in Winsford, Cheshire, to meet Max,
his mum Emma, a marketing assistant, his dad Paul, a civil servant, and brother, Harry, 12.
As they cheerfully pass the stethoscope around the room, Max shows off the scar on his sternum. “It’s so nice to hear Keira’s heart again,” sister Katelyn says. “It’s very fast. He told us he calls his heart ‘Kax’ after Keira and Max. We’re going to call it Meira.”
While the Johnsons were thrilled to hear their son would finally fifififififinally get a lifesaving transplant, it came with mixed emotions.
“When the call came to say the e heart was there, you are happy for your own child, but really devastated for the donor family,” ” Emma, 47, recalls. “There are such conflicting emotions.”
Meeting Max has given great comfort to Keira’s mum, who was wheeled from her ward to hold her little girl’s hand and say y goodbye. Max’s dad assures her and Joe their precious Keira will never be forgotten.
“Keira is part of our family now, and always will be. It will never, ever come close to replacing what you have lost,” says Paul.
“But if it gives you comfort then n for me, it’s the least we can do.”
‘It’s so nice to hear Keira’s heart again. It’s very fast’
Max with Keira’s siblings Keely, Katelyn, and Bradley. Keira’s organs saved four lives, including Max’s.
Keira’s dad Joe listens to her heart beat inside Max.