Families meet after heart donation saves man’s life

By Kent Luetzen

KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana
MISSOULA – One man’s second chance at life meant someone else lost theirs. After waiting anxiously for more than two years, he finally got news that he was a match for a heart transplant.

Reporter  Kent Luetzen has the story of Troy Schlimgen who, after four years of recovery, finally met his heart donor’s family.

“And here I am about to have this major major surgery and really at that point if I lived or died it didn’t really matter because I was at peace with whatever happened,” Schlimgen said.

He was once an active hiker and outdoorsman, who’s now living an unfamiliar life. Schlimgen was diagnosed at age 35 with familial heart disease, the body’s inability to clear cholesterol from the blood.

After two strokes, one seizure and years of ups and downs, he was finally going into surgery for a life saving heart transplant.

“You do pretty much live day to day. At one point, you just go into survival mode. Honestly you become very selfish, as odd as it sounds. You are basically just trying to make it to the end of the day,” Schlimgen said.

His second chance came at the loss of another’s life.

Laura Smeland was a 36-year-old mother of two and worked as a registered nurse. Her mother describes her as someone who was always giving back. Laura donated her heart, liver, kidneys, and corneas, saving more lives than just Troy’s.

“She spent her life helping people. I believe she helped people in her life and now as well in her death. Her gift is continuing,” Helen Smeland said.

The two families met for the first time on Friday in what both described as a natural experience. The moment served as a turning point in the grieving process.

“Now that we’ve met Troy Schmeligen..we are very happy. He is such a kind and nice person. Humble. We just so grateful her gift went to him,” Helen said.

Six months after his life saving surgery, Troy is back to hiking his favorite place on earth – Glacier national Park.

The families celebrated with other organ donors and recipients at the Missoula Donation Celebration that took place on Saturday.

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