swissvale bride
Photo by Lauren Demby for the New York Times.

The New York Times recently featured Jeni Stepien and Paul Maenner’s Swissvale nuptials in the Weddings section of the paper, but not for what you might think.  The designer of Stepien’s gown wasn’t mentioned, and not much was said about how Ms. Stepien met her fiance, 34-year-old engineer Maenner.

Instead, the story revealed that Stepien was walked down the aisle by a very special man, 72-year-old Arthur Thomas.  Thomas was the transplant recipient who received the heart of Michael Stepien, Jeni Stepien’s father who was killed ten years ago less than three blocks from where her wedding took place.

Michael Stepien’s killer is serving 40 years-to-life for shooting Michael Stepien in the head during a robbery.

The Stepiens used Pittsburgh-based Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) to donate Michael’s heart and were able to keep in touch with Mr. Thomas, the recipient. One of 58 federally designated organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States, CORE is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting organ, tissue and cornea donation, education and research.

After she got engaged, Stepien wondered who she would ask to walk her down the aisle. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, it would be so incredible to have a physical piece of my father there,’ ” Stepien said.

She wrote to Thomas, whom her mother had kept in touch with, trading Christmas cards, birthday flowers and child-rearing advice. Thomas, in turn, talked with his daughter who was fully in support of the gesture.

During the ceremony, Stepien was able to touch Thomas’ chest and they danced together at the reception.

“I thought that would be the best way for her to feel close to her dad,” said Thomas. “That’s her father’s heart beating. I felt wonderful about bringing her dad’s heart to Pittsburgh. If I had to, I would’ve walked.”

Read the full story at The New York Times and see a video of Jeni Stepien’s story from ABC World News Tonight.

According to CORE’s website, when you register to become an organ donor you have the potential to save eight lives.  For more information on registering, visit the CORE website.

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.