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Family hears late son's heartbeat in emotional heart transplant reunion

heartfelt reunion in san diego
Posted at 10:33 AM, Oct 01, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A San Diego family is hearing their son's heartbeat for the first time since he died in a single-car crash last August.

Harley Duffer was nervous as he walked up Imperial Avenue in Logan Heights with his wife, Justine. Pushing his two-year-old daughter in a stroller, he breathed heavier.

The Duffers live in Arizona but spent the weekend celebrating their daughter's birthday in San Diego. Their trip to SeaWorld, however, will not be the most memorable part of the trip.

As he turned into the front gate of the Future Achievers Preschool, his new family was waiting for him.

Lesley Nurse stood with her arms open, then clinched tightly to Duffer. The two cried as she said "Oh my gosh."

"It's good to meet you too," Duffer replied, fighting back tears.

Nurse recognized Duffer's heartbeat.

"It's so so strong," she says.

It's not a heart he's always had; it's Nurse's son's, Peyton.

Peyton Nurse died in a car accident last year. He chose to be an organ donor. Now, Duffer has the 21-year-old's heart and one of his kidneys.

Duffer planned a trip to San Diego weeks ago. He reached out to Nurse's father, Nigel, on Facebook, hoping to meet his transplant donor's family.

But the request sat. Nigel Nurse didn't see it.

Duffer's brother wrote to Nurse's daughter, asking her to let her dad know about the message.

"It said, 'Can you have your dad check his Facebook account because my brother's trying to get a hold of him.' I texted her back, 'Who is that?' and she said, 'I don't know,'" Nigel Nurse explained. "I immediately went to Facebook and I saw Harley had sent me a friend request which was weeks old at this point, but I ignored it. I just thought it was some random person. But as soon as I saw that name, Harley, I knew it."

"It's always been a dream of mine to meet in person," Duffer added.

Duffer has a genetic condition that had given him heart failure. Peyton Nurse's heart is his third transplant.

"I kind of bounced around hospital to hospital there," he said. "I went to three, and none of them could help me because the third transplant is unheard of."

Eventually, he found a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix that would do it.

As the Nurses and family friends met with Duffer and his family, they pulled out a stethoscope and a sonogram machine.

They broke into tears, saying "It's so strong."

Duffer says he can feel the difference in the beats.

"Peyton's heart was very strong," Lesley Nurse said, adding for a moment she felt like she was with her son again. "Whenever he was hugging me, I was right at that level because he was super tall, and I could just hear his heartbeat so strong."

Three times may be the charm for Duffer, especially with a healthy and strong heart like Nurse's.

"This is the one. I can feel it," he says.