Diana Donnarumma, a young woman who received a life-saving organ transplant, honored the memory of her donor, Heather Donnelly, by asking Heather’s father, Daniel Donnelly Jr., to walk her halfway down the aisle on her wedding day.
Heather had died in a car accident just three days before her own wedding in 2017, and eight people, including Diana, received organ transplants from Heather. Diana said that she tries to carry on Heather’s spirit every day, and she felt compelled to give Heather’s father the opportunity to walk her down the aisle.
On her wedding day, Diana fought back tears as Daniel led her down the aisle before handing her over to her own father to escort her the rest of the way. The emotional moments that Diana shared with her organ donor’s father moved both of them to tears. Diana said that before she walked down the aisle with Daniel, she felt butterflies in her stomach. When he saw her in her wedding dress, he cried, and she started crying as well.
Daniel misses Heather greatly and struggles with the pain of her absence, but he said that he was honored to walk Diana down the aisle and is happy to have another daughter now. Diana told Daniel that Heather’s spirit was there with them and that she was happier than ever.
They hugged each other before walking out. Diana experienced a range of emotions on her wedding day, from excitement and anxiety to sadness about Heather’s death and immense happiness that she was going to marry the love of her life.
Diana hopes that people will realize the power of organ donation and make serious decisions about becoming organ donors themselves. She emphasized the importance of not making family members decide about organ donation in the moment when they are grieving.
Diana has dealt with health issues since childhood and was diagnosed with gastroparesis, a debilitating gastrointestinal condition, in early 2016. The condition forced her to live on intravenous nutrition until she received a life-saving transplant in 2017, which changed her life.
In the eight-hour transplant surgery, Diana received Heather’s small intestine and the right portion of her large intestine. Although she still experiences some side effects from the transplant, such as nausea and vomiting, and will need to take anti-rejection medication and steroids for the rest of her life, Diana says that it’s a night-and-day difference from before the transplant.
She said that she was physically and emotionally exhausted before the transplant, but now she has a future. Diana added that she got to feel all the love of her friends and family on her wedding day and that she wouldn’t have a future without Heather’s gift.
Heather had received her master’s degree in counseling from Texas A&M Corpus Christi before she died, and she had wanted to work with children. Her funeral was attended by many children from daycares and other places, and it was an emotional event for all who knew her.
Daniel said that he was honored when Diana asked him to walk her down the aisle and that he will never get that chance with his own daughter. The emotional connection that Diana and Daniel share through Heather’s gift is a testament to the power of organ donation and the love that it can bring into people’s lives.