O.C. Man Gets to Thank Wife of Heart Donor, 20 Years Later
NEWPORT BEACH (KTLA) -- It was an emotional face-to-face meeting between a man who received a heart transplant and the wife who's husband donated the gift of life.

Deborah Atkinson listened to her husband's heart beating inside the body of Dennis Harwood.

Her husband Dusty died suddenly of a brain aneurysm 20 years ago at the age of 32.

At the same time, Harwood, a Newport Beach attorney at the time, desperately needed a heart transplant, and it turned out Dusty was a match.

Atkinson said she remembers vividly signing the organ donor papers, something she said Dusty wanted.

"The last time I saw Dusty was when they were taking him into surgery, and that's when we said our goodbyes -- my sister and I," she recalled, choking back tears.

Harwood is now 74. He's seen seven of his eight grandchildren born after the transplant. He's also traveled and golfed.

But he hadn't done what he got to do on Wednesday -- thank Dusty's son and his wife for the gift he was given.

"That's what he wanted to do. He wanted to give somebody else a chance," Atkinson said of her husband.

"He did," Harwood replied. "Words can't express, that's the greatest gift of all. I don't have words to express it. You just can't express longevity of life with words."

The doctors and nurses involved in the transplant 20 years ago were also present for the the meeting at Hoag Hospital.

They said the reunion was extremely rare for another reason, namely, becasue transplant recipients typically only survive about five to 10 years.