Antonio Franklin Jr. died at age 21 after being shot at Duncan Park two years ago, but on Saturday, his heart was beating there again.
Alejandro Arreola, 31, the transplant recipient who received Franklin’s heart through organ donation, marched at the front of a Peace Walk to discourage violence in the neighborhood around the park.
With his wife and three daughters beside him, he was joined by James Roop, 48, who received Franklin’s lungs.
Franklin’s mother, Anita Franklin, held Arreola and Roop in a long embrace as she met them for the first time Saturday in the same place her son was shot.
She started the Peace Walks soon after Antonio Franklin was shot in April 2014. He died at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. Police have said he was an innocent bystander to the gunfire that erupted at the park that day.
While Franklin’s family grieved his loss, Arreola’s and Roop’s families were waiting and wondering about their futures.
Roop, of Pikeville, had been in the hospital at UK for three weeks at the time of Franklin’s death. Because of pulmonary fibrosis, he had lost the use of one lung entirely, and the other lung was only 10 percent functional, he said.
“He couldn’t live outside the hospital,” said Roop’s wife, Sherry.
“I wouldn’t have made it till the end of the week” without the lung transplant, Roop said.
And Arreola, of Huntington, W.Va., would not have survived without a new heart.
His wife, Sarah, said he had been on the waiting list for a transplant since Valentine’s Day 2013, and she had watched him nearly die.
The men met in the hospital at the time of their transplants and have been friends ever since. Both said they are doing well now and are thankful for Antonio Franklin’s gift.
Arreola is able to swim with his daughters again, and Roop has been enjoying playing with his grandbabies.
“I can’t be thankful enough,” said Roop, who had a photo of Antonio Franklin in his shirt pocket.
Arreola and Anita Franklin had been corresponding and decided that a Peace Walk would be the best place to meet and share their story publicly. When Roop learned of the event, he was eager to join and thank Franklin personally.
Before the walk began, Franklin listened to Arreola’s heart — her son’s heart — as a microphone was used to broadcast the rhythmic beating to the crowd that gathered around.
“Antonio’s heart still beats in a place that he loves, a place that he cherishes — Duncan Park,” Franklin said.
Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates had representatives at the event, urging those present to join the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry in memory of Antonio Franklin, whose organs helped save others in addition to Arreola and Roop.
Amber Dean, multicultural outreach coordinator for KODA, said minorities represent 60 percent of the 120,000 people nationally who are waiting for an organ transplant, but she said minorities are sometimes reluctant to commit to organ donation because of “distrust of the medical community.”
“The events of today will break some of those barriers,” she said. “This shows the miracle of transplantation.”
Anita Franklin said she keeps cards and letters from Arreola posted next to her door for daily inspiration. She said she was surprised at first that he had contacted her, but then her daughter made a statement that put it all in perspective.
“‘Why would you think that he would not reach out to you, be so kind?’” Franklin said her daughter asked. “‘He has Tony’s heart.’”
People who want to join the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry can make their wishes known when they renew their driver’s license or by visiting Donatelifeky.org.