Vicky West stepped into Nalley’s arms and laid her ear to his chest. Inside she could hear Nalley’s breath. The warm Virginia air moved through two lungs donated by a boy named Hans, who died of a brain aneurysm at age 20. West’s son’s lungs.“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what if I have a breakdown in the middle of the dance floor?’” West recalls. She had brought her sister and her best friend to the reception to help her prepare for the emotional moment. “I’m never going to dance at my son’s wedding, and he’s my only child. They gave me something that I never thought that I would get.”
West and Nalley didn’t know each other when Hans died. For years after his organs arrived at the University of Virginia, on ice, to be inserted into Nalley’s body, they didn’t even know each others’ names. But over time, they’ve developed a relationship that is both tentative and incredibly tender. They consider each other family, but each of them worries about putting pressure on the other person to have a relationship.