When she received a letter, she couldn’t wait to open it. Photos of a young boy spilled out of the envelope. “That was the moment when everything became very, very real because suddenly there was a real person who had died,” says Portell. “That was devastating.”Her donor was P.J., an 8-year-old who had been hit by a car while riding his bike. “He loved Indiana Jones, was obsessed with secret codes and wanted to be a jet pilot or archaeologist when he grew up,” says Portell. He also made an extraordinary choice; he had told his mother he wanted to be a donor in several conversations during his life. Portell’s sense of guilt and gratitude was crushing.
She corresponded with P.J.’s family for about six months before she felt ready to meet. “I had a fear that was, frankly: Will they like me?” It’s a strange pressure, to carry a piece of someone’s son’s heart in your body. She had to carry P.J., too. She had to channel his spirit and to live in a way that felt worthy of his choice to donate.