Anna Collins recently met the family of the little girl whose heart beats in her chest
By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER Managing editor
This year will most likely become a landmark year that Anna Collins and her family will never forget.
First things first, on Monday, Anna will turn 5-years-old.
Sporting a fresh new haircut and pink bow clipped in her hair, Anna proudly announced "I'm having a My Little Pony birthday party."
At the beginning of the next school year, she will enter kindergarten. While most mothers dread the day their child enters kindergarten, Anna's mom is very excited.
Burdened by a heart defect detected by doctors at birth, Anna Collins underwent two heart surgeries – the first at two months, the second at eight months. After her second surgery, Anna was becoming weaker and a heart transplant was inevitable.
At 14-months of age, Anna was life-flighted to a hospital. Doctors told her mother, Susie Collins, she would never leave the hospital without a new heart. They predicted earlier that it would take six months to a year to find an organ.
Unbeknownst to the Collins family, a 2-year-old had succumbed to her injuries and a new heart was beating to the same rhythm as Anna's.
Two-year-old Hannah Helms and her mother, Pepper Helms, were playing on a playground in Atlanta. According to Mrs. Collins, a limb crashed into Mrs. Helms, and knocked her to the ground. As people came running over to the accident, Hannah lay unconscious next to her mother.
The limb that had knocked Mrs. Helms to her feet had knocked Hannah in the head. She was rushed to a hospital where she remained in a coma until doctors realized Hannah would not wake up.
On April 17, 2001, Anna received her new heart within hours of Hannah's death.
Probably one of the most memorable events in Anna's life began the second week of January.
The story of how she and her family came to meet the donor family is the stuff of legend.
Mrs. Collins' best friend, Wendy West, was watching the "Today" show when a particular segment piqued her interest. The segment was featuring playground safety. The show never mentioned anything about an organ donation.
A woman was telling the story of how her 2-year-old daughter had been struck by a tree limb. The accident happened in Atlanta, and the child had died of head trauma.
Putting two-and-two together, Mrs. West immediately called Mrs. Collins and told her what she had seen. In turn, Mrs. Collins contacted a local reporter she knew and asked her if she could help her do a background check and possibly locate the family.
With the reporter as the mediator, she contacted the Keenan Law Firm through an internet search. The search revealed a picture of Hannah.
After much deliberation between both families, and a week before Christmas, the date to meet was set. The Collins family was given the opportunity to pick a Saturday in January. With the first Saturday being New Year's Day, Mrs. Collins and her husband, Tim, chose Jan. 8.
Going through mixed emotions, the day finally arrived. On Jan. 8 at 12:30 p.m., both families met at the law firm. The two parents spoke first. Mrs. Helms wanted to know how much Anna knew about her transplant before she met her.
Mrs. Collins informed her Anna had been told all about their daughter and where her new heart had come from.
On Monday, Mr. and Mrs. Collins their 12-year-old son, Austin, will join with family members and close friends for Anna's fifth birthday. The possibility of the two families reuniting each year is a possibility. The Helmses have family in Baldwin County so passing through Brewton is inevitable.
As of Thursday, 87,513 people are waiting to receive an organ. The number will likely rise as the weeks and years progress. Since the beginning of the year, 24,810 transplants have occurred and there have been 12,944 donors.
For more information regarding organ donation and the steps you need to take, visit the Web site http://organdonor.gov