From the Editor

Drescher: Durham mom hears son’s heart beat again – as she advocates organ donation

Durham mom communes again with man whose life, like hers, was saved by son’s organ donation

June 2, 2012 

  • Learn more To learn about becoming an organ donor, go to donatelifenc.org. You also can register to be a donor at your local Division of Motor Vehicles office.

Jim Hatchell is alive because Ryan Benton Evans is not. That makes Evans’ mother sad. It also makes her happy. Hatchell has Evans’ heart. He received it on Nov. 18, 2008 – the day Evans died.

Hatchell and Ryan Benton Evans’ mother, Delores Benton Evans, met last year for the first time. He greeted her by saying, “Do you want to hear your son’s heart beat?”

Her knees nearly buckled. To steady herself, she grabbed a table. Then she regained her strength and hugged Hatchell really, really hard. The second time they met was about 10 days ago at the N.C. Legislative Building. They had gathered with others to raise awareness of organ donation.

When they saw each other, Hatchell and Delores Benton Evans hugged. That moment was captured by News & Observer photojournalist Ethan Hyman.

The photograph touched Evans. She wrote Hyman: “The photo shows my expressions, which I have never seen captured like you did – the pain of the loss of my son but the pleasure at seeing Jim alive and well with Ryan’s heart living and beating inside.”

Evans, 64, is a retired lawyer who lives in Durham. She grieves for her son. She still cries hard.

She also does volunteer work encouraging people to donate their organs. That eases her pain and gives her energy. “We feel like our loved ones live on,” she said in an interview. “When you can reach out and touch them, it makes your heartbreak easier. It really does.” She said Hatchell is “very considerate and very genuine.”

Hatchell, 59, is a retired mechanic who lives in Raleigh. He credits prayer and his wife for keeping him alive. He has two adult sons. When he saw Evans last week, he said, “We were almost in tears. She was getting choked up and I was getting choked up. She was talking about Ryan. It was kind of an emotional conversation.”

He said Evans is “the sweetest person on this Earth.” Yet he noted she has persevered through her own health problems and the loss of the youngest of her three children. “She’s a tough woman,” he said. “She’s been through a lot.”

Ryan Benton Evans died almost four years ago from a gunshot wound. He was 32, recently engaged and doing well in the family business, operating convenience stores. Police said the wound was self-inflicted, which his mother does not accept.

The morning Evans died, Hatchell got a phone call. He was on a list to receive a new heart. His heart had been failing for years. He kept a bag packed, waiting for the phone call that could save his life.

For some time after his transplant, Hatchell only knew the donor was a younger person.

On Jan. 1, 2010, his wife read a front-page story in The N&O by Sarah Avery. The story was about a Durham woman named Delores Benton Evans, who had won an essay contest for people affected by organ donation. She was to ride in a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The story noted that Evans’ son had died on Nov. 18, 2008 – the same day as Jim’s transplant.

You need to read this article, Hatchell’s wife said. Look at the date.

That discovery led to letters and phone calls from Hatchell to Evans and eventually to the face-to-face meetings.

Evans became familiar with organ donation before her son’s death. She was diagnosed with kidney disease years ago. Before her son died, she started dialysis and joined thousands of other Americans on the kidney donation waiting list.

After Ryan Benton Evans died, his family decided to donate his organs, not knowing his mother could be a recipient. As it turned out, Delores received her son’s left kidney.

Two people received his corneas. His mother does not know their identity.

A local man received Ryan Benton Evans’ lungs. His family became friends with the man, who has since died.

That leaves Hatchell as Delores Benton Evans’ lone living reminder, other than herself, of her son’s organ donation.

When Hatchell thinks of his new heart, he thinks of life and death, of Ryan and Delores Benton Evans.

“He’s still alive in me,” Hatchell said softly. “This has got to keep going for her. I don’t want to let her down. I just need to keep going for her.”

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com.On Twitter @john_drescher

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