Teen's organ donation is gift of life for five recipients.
Linda Amos was 36 years old the first time her heart beat completely on its own.
It happened on Aug. 21, 1991 at 12:25 p.m. as the single mother of three worked in accounting at the Mississippi Insurance Commission in Jackson.
One mile away at Baptist Medical Center, just hours after night-time temperatures dropped to a record low for that date of 55 degrees, Christopher Chase Wroten entered the world — the second child born to Mike and Liz Wroten of Terry. He was 22 inches long and weighed 8 pounds, 8 ounces. "Healthy as could be," Liz says.
Healthy for 19 years, 232 days. Without warning, Chase suffered a stroke on April 13, 2011 — a Wednesday night — shortly after pitching in a baseball game for Hinds Community College in Raymond. He died two days later.
Because of a decision by Mike and Liz at a time when they were suffocating beneath the first wave of agony that comes from losing a child, Chase's strong-as-a-bull heart was surgically transplanted into Linda's chest less than 48 hours later. She was 56 and facing a deadly situation unless a donor soon came forward.
Five more of Chase's organs were donated through the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency.
One of his kidneys went to David Cox, 41, who works with Mike as a Hinds County deputy sheriff and had been on dialysis for four years.
Chase's liver was donated to a 61-year-old man in Puerto Rico, his pancreas and left kidney to a 51-year-old woman in Alabama. A 58-year-old male in Missouri received both of Chase's lungs.
"Everybody Chase donated to is doing well," says Liz, sitting in the den of her family's home and holding a letter from MORA containing an update on the recipients. "It's like our son is living through all of these people."
The magnitude of their decision became even more real in November when MORA arranged for Mike and Liz to meet Linda.
"I saw Liz first," says Linda, who lives near Florence, Miss.,a 15-minute drive from the Wrotens. "She was smiling and had her arms wide open as she walked toward me. We hugged. She looked at me and said, 'You have my baby's heart.' I said, 'Yes, I do ... and I can't help but feel a sense of guilt because I realize he had to die in order for me to live.'
"Liz said, 'We don't want you to feel like that. Chase wouldn't be here whether you received his heart or not.' "
Someone from MORA handed Liz a stethoscope. She inserted the ear buds, then gently pressed the flat part against the upper left side of chest. For the first time in more than two years, Liz heard Chase speak to her. It came in a rhythmic la-doob. la-doob. la-doob.
Liz says it was easy to translate: "It said 'life,' "
Linda asked if they might have a photo of Chase. Liz pulled out several prints she had made for Amos to keep.
But she yearned for more than a few snapshots of the person whose heart was keeping her alive. "Please," she said to Mike and Liz,. "tell me about Chase."
He was all country boy.
Raised on 32 acres, Chase didn't have to go far to hunt deer, catch bass or simply do the things country boys do.
One of his closest lifelong friends was Hunter Renfroe, who helped lead Mississippi State to the College World Series finals in 2013 and was the 13th overall draft pick in the Major League Baseball draft last June by the San Diego Padres.
Mike coached Chase and Hunter every season, from coach-pitch ball to teenagers. They won national tournaments at age 9 and 14.
"I was the catcher, Chase was the pitcher," Renfroe says. "That's just the way it always was. Chase could fill up a strike zone. By his senior year of high school (at Hillcrest), Chase was throwing between 87 and 90 (miles per hour) consistently."
Chase, who stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 170 pounds, signed a scholarship with the University of Southern Mississippi after graduating in 2009. But he didn't stay in Hattiesburg a month.
"Chase was always a homebody," Liz says. "He kept calling saying, 'I just want to come home.' Next thing Mike and I know, he's walking in the door with all his stuff."
He enrolled at Hinds Community College.
"Looking back now, Chase deciding to leave Southern gave us two more years with him at home," Liz says. "We couldn't be more thankful for that."
Chase was also in love. He and Carly Crosby — now a 22-year-old senior at Mississippi State — began dating when Chase was a sophomore and Carly a freshman in high school.
"I know we were kinda young to talk about things like this," she says, "but we talked about marriage, about having kids one day. He was my soul mate. I just happened to meet him at an early age."
On the Wednesday he became ill, Chase attended morning classes at Hinds. He and Carly went to the Wrotens' house to eat lunch.
"He was perfectly fine earlier that day," Carly says. "I fixed his plate and gave it to him. He just kind of sat there at the kitchen bar. He said, 'My head is really hurting.' And he put his head in his hands. I went over to rub his back, and he was burning up, sweating. He took his left hand and pointed to a spot just above his left eye and said, 'It feels like somebody is hitting me right there with a sledge hammer.' "
Liz took Chase to their family physician, who diagnosed it as a pulled neck muscle and gave him a decadron shot. They stopped at McDonald's on the way home. "He seemed a lot better," Liz says.
But after entering the first game of a doubleheader late that afternoon, Chase managed only a couple of pitches.
"He got sick to his stomach on the mound and was woozy," Mike remembers. "Somebody asked if I wanted to call an ambulance, and I said, 'No, I'm taking him in my patrol car.'
"In the emergency room, they asked him on a scale of one to 10, where would he rate his pain? Chase answered 'Fifteen,' " Liz says. "What we didn't know at the time was that he had a blood clot in his neck."
The attending physician ordered a CAT scan.
On the way back from the scan,"just as they rolled him around the corner and was entering the room, Chase started hollering, 'I can't hear! ... My legs! .... I can't see!' We found out later he was having a major stroke. That was the last time he ever responded."
The scan revealed the blood clot. Chase was transferred to the University of Mississippi Medical Center shortly after midnight where he underwent surgery to remove the clot.
He died the next day at approximately 2 p.m.
Linda had grown tired of hospitals since 2006, when she suffered a heart attack and doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of surviving the surgery to insert two stints.
She later had a defibrillator inserted to help regulate her heart rhythm. She spent most of March 2011 in UMC while being fitted with a Left Ventricular Assist System, which helps the heart pump and is commonly used on patients awaiting a donor heart. But the system requires intensive training to operate, and the patients plus a caretaker must make a perfect score on a test before being released. .
While having her hair done around 11 p.m. on April 16, 2011, someone from UMC called her cell. "How fast can you get over to the hospital?" she was asked.
Linda snapped. "What in the world for now!?!"
A calm, joyful voice answered: "To get your new heart."
"Oh my, Lord. I was screaming I was so happy."
Once out of the hospital, she began to think about the donor.
She hurt for Chase's family, even though she didn't know them at the time. "I prayed that one day we would meet.
"But to be honest, I wondered what they would think, being a white family, when they found out their son's heart had gone to a black woman. But they answered that question without ever having to say a word. I could tell how happy they were that I was able to live, and that part of Chase was, too."
If Chase had lived, he would be 22 and probably studying civil engineering at State. He and Carly would most likely be engaged.
But where would Linda Amos and the other four recipients be?
"We all wanted a miracle after Chase's stroke," Liz says. "We got one. We got several. They don't always come the way you think they might."