Hearing the steady, muffled thump of her unborn daughter’s heart for the first time during her pregnancy four years ago remains one of Kara Mellick’s happiest memories.
The memory flared brightly this week, as Mellick crouched beside a 3-year-old boy with tousled brown hair outside his home in Hanover Park and again listened to her daughter’s heart – beating inside him.
“I was amazed and joyful and overwhelmed with excitement,” said Mellick, 23.
On Tuesday, for the first time, Mellick met Faris Samara, the energetic little boy who three years ago received the heart of Mellick’s 9-month-old daughter and only child, Karlie. The little girl died at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Ky., in June 2009, after a friend of Mellick’s violently shook Karlie while he was taking care of her because she wouldn’t stop crying.
Kosair paid for Mellick – who lives in Clarksville, Ind. – and her mother to travel to Chicago this week as thanks for Mellick’s participation in a campaign to eliminate child abuse in Kentucky, said Kosair spokesman Steve Menaugh.
Back in 2009 – about the time doctors in Louisville told Mellick that if Karlie survived, she would exist as a “vegetable” – physicians at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago told Faris’ mother and father, Siham and Khalid Samara, that their son would die without a heart transplant. Faris was born with a deformed heart and endured his first surgery when he was only 10 days old, his mother said.
Siham Samara, 41, said this week that she initially knew nothing about the donor’s tragic story – other than that a little girl had died, giving the Samaras hope.
A day after Faris’ successful surgery, his mother lay close to her son in the intensive care unit at Children’s and listened to his new heart.
“I remember the ICU nurses were there, and I just threw myself at [Faris], and I kept whispering to the heart, ‘Your mother misses you,’” Siham Samara recalled this week.
Faris’ mother said she always felt a deep need to meet the mother who had somehow been able to think of others, even as she dealt with crushing grief.
Siham Samara reached out through Children’s hospital, and soon learned that Mellick’s family also wanted contact. There were letters and phone calls between the two families but no immediate meeting.
Mellick this week said that was because she needed time to grieve, and to deal with the criminal case of the man who killed her child. He is now serving a 17-year prison term for manslaughter, Menaugh said.
And so the families finally met this week. Siham Samara, who had so craved the meeting, said part of her began to dread it, as Mellick and her mother pulled up to the Samaras’ home.
“My legs were shaking – I didn’t think I would be able to do this,” Siham Samara said.
But the Samaras said they felt an instant bond with Mellick and her mother, Allison Ellis, who came laden with gifts for Faris – including a little silver teddy bear with Karlie’s and Faris’ names engraved on it. In the center of the bear’s belly, there’s a heart bearing these words: “My heart belongs to you.”
Mellick said she was thrilled to meet Faris, a lively little boy, who loves toy frogs and his backyard swing.
At some point, Mellick, wearing a stethoscope, bent down to listen to Faris’ heart, which doctors told the Samaras is working well.
The moment might have been bittersweet, but Mellick said it was anything but.
“I wasn’t physically holding [Karlie], and yet I could hear her,” Mellick said. “I couldn’t see her, but I could hear her through Faris.”
Contributing: Louisville Courier-Journal