Photographer Chandler West inked his heart donor’s initials on his arm.
By Jake Malooley|
Chandler West When West was 16, a cardiologist discovered an inexplicable defect was causing his heart to swell to the point of crushing his lungs. A pacemaker was put in as a stopgap, but West needed a transplant. A month before his 18th birthday, when he would be tossed on the lengthy adult wait list, the call came in: A heart was available. “At first, I didn’t want to know who the heart came from,” says West, now 21, a photographer who occasionally shoots for TOC. “But after a while, I became consumed by the thought.” Going off the scant details the hospital provided (the donor was a 17-year-old girl), West spent the summer before beginning classes at Loyola University seeking out her family. The online Social Security Death Index led him to the Lueths in tiny Manilla, Iowa. Over the phone, Mary Lueth told West that her daughter, Lauren Lynne, suffered fatal brain trauma in a car accident. Lauren, West learned, was born just six days after him. He now visits his “heart family” as often as his family in Oklahoma. During a trip in 2009, Lauren’s friends described her habit of scrawling her initials on any surface. In tribute, West got a cursive “LLL” inked on his inner left bicep: “Lauren’s initials are right up against my heart,” he says. “I can’t stress how much of a fan I am of her.”