Their meeting was both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Jim and Becky Geuns recently met Tony Montalvo of Chicago. Montalvo received their daughter's liver after Jillian (Geuns) Hege died from injuries incurred in a one-car accident in July of last year.
Montalvo wrote to the Geuns couple in October of last year, thanking them for saving his life. Earlier this month, he contacted them, asking to meet them. That meeting took place April 26 in Geneseo.
The Geuns couple took a large studio photograph of their daughter to that meeting, and Montalvo brought his own framed photograph, holding two photos, one of Jillian and another of himself,
"I was in the brinks of death, and when I see this picture I think of her and how she made that sacrifice for me," Montalvo said. "A gift from heaven ... through her, I am alive today."
Meeting Montalvo is part of both the grieving and the healing process for the Geuns couple.
Mrs. Geuns also has found comfort in sharing with others how her daughter's heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and liver and tissues have given life to four people.
"In due course, we must set out on the journey toward healing, and telling others about the importance of organ/tissue donation is my journey."
Jillian, the youngest of the couple's four children, was pronounced brain dead on July 27, 2012, at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria after being injured in a July 26 auto accident in Geneseo.
"In spite of epilepsy, Jillian accomplished many things in her short 23 years of life on this earth," Mrs. Geuns said. Her passion was dancing. She danced for 15 years, and owned her own studio the last five of those years. She had done lyrical dance at her church, was on the pom squad in high school. She loved her family, her friends, her cats, all children, everything country and God.
"She aspired to be an event planner, and her first practice was her own wedding on July 9, 2011, to Kameron Hege." She was an inspiration to us all, her laughter was contagious. She never let life get her down or hold her back. She believed in what she loved and because she loved, she believed."
Mrs. Geuns was vacationing in Maine when she received a tearful telephone call from her older daughter, Kari Fleming, telling her to return to Geneseo as soon as possible because Jillian had been involved "in a bad accident."
"She was on her way to Geneseo from Annawan on Route 6 when apparently she had a seizure behind the wheel," her mother said. The positives are, No. 1, she was alone in the car. No. 2, she did not veer into oncoming traffic, rather she veered off the road. No. 3, if she was in a seizure, she did not feel any pain when the accident occurred."
Page 2 of 2 - Mrs. Geuns said her daughter was a first-line organ donor and had "unselfishly" discussed this with her family and signed up with the Secretary of State's office on her driver's license.
"Gift of Hope took over complete care and responsibility for Jillian after she was pronounced brain dead. That weekend, a flag few over Peoria in her honor. We encouraged the 1,200 visitors at her Celebration of Life to register as donors."
As Mrs. Geuns shared her journey of prayer and healing, she asked, "What do penguins, cowboy boots and tattoos have in common?"
Her answer, "Jill owned red boots, and was even able to dance on the bar at Coyote Ugly (Nashville, Tenn.) last summer. She was all country and loved agriculture, boots, belts, country western music. The penguins, she collected them. After she saw the movie, 'Happy Feet,' where the main character, 'Mumbles,' tap danced to his own heart song. The word "believe" was tattooed on her foot. She believed in Gift of Hope.
"Many wondrous and marvelous things have happened because of Jillian's 23 years of life on this earth, and since her death. Mostly though, she taught us to have hope, faith and love. You must believe in what you do in life."
Mr. and Mrs. Geuns also are parents of Michael Geuns of Prophetstown, Caleb Geuns of LeRoy and Kari Fleming of Maquoketa, Iowa. They have two grandchildren
and two step-grandchildren.