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Ex-Ute gets gift of life with new heart from former BYU football player

Published: Friday, Sept. 19 2014 10:05 a.m. MDT

Updated: yesterday

Ken Gardner, who received a donor heart from Nick Longshore, hugs Nick's wife, Caroline Longshore, at her home in West Haven, Monday, June 9, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

For Caroline Longshore, it couldn’t have been a better Mother’s Day present.

The 23-year-old had been through a great deal over the past couple of years, more than most people suffer in a lifetime.

Six months earlier, Nick, her husband of three years, had been killed in a tragic ATV accident in Idaho. A year before that, the couple’s first child was stillborn despite no signs of any problems beforehand. A month before Mother’s Day, she had given birth to Hannah, an angel from heaven she says, but still a big challenge for a single mom.

On that Sunday in early May, Caroline had left church early with her newborn baby and was lying down when the phone rang. On the other end, her aunt, Jill Hall, had some exciting news for her.

“Right off the bat, she said, ‘Caroline, I know who has Nick’s heart.’ I was like ‘What?’ ’’

When Nick had died in November, several of his organs were donated, including his heart. But Caroline hadn’t thought much about it since, and didn’t know what to think about this news out of the clear blue.

“I wanted to get in contact (with the recipient) — I just didn’t think it was going to happen so soon,’’ she said.

Caroline had plans to go to her aunt's home in Bountiful that evening, as she often did on Sundays, but Hall said she had also invited the man who was the recipient of the heart transplant from her husband.

First Caroline called her father in California to see what he thought about her going to the meeting. After all, she didn’t even know for sure if it was the person who had received her husband’s heart, and didn’t know if she was ready for the meeting.

“My dad said, ‘I think this is a Mother’s Day gift from Nick, some way to show you that he’s aware that this is Mother’s Day,’ ’’ Caroline recalls her father saying.

So later that day, with much trepidation, Caroline headed down I-15 from her home in West Haven to her Aunt Jill’s house in Bountiful.

“I was so nervous, I was shaking,’’ she remembers.

The door opened and “there was this big tall man that looked just like Nick’s grandpa. He was 6-5 and had size 16 shoes, just like Nick.’’

The big guy with the full head of white hair, nearly the same size as Nick Longshore, but twice as old, was Ken Gardner, a former star basketball player for the University of Utah. Imagine that. A former Utah basketball player had received a heart from a BYU football player.

“The first thing he did was give Caroline a big bear hug, just like Nick would have,’’ recalls Julia Whipple, the sister of Nick’s father, one of two dozen relatives and friends gathered at the Halls’ house that night. “Then he put her hand on his heart and said, 'Feel that beat.’ You could have heard a pin drop — there was not a dry eye in the room.’’

Gentle giant

“He was a gentle giant,’’ is how Caroline Longshore describes her husband. “He had the biggest heart. He was the kindest person ever and would do anything for anybody. He was soft-spoken and quiet, but he spoke with his actions.’’

Nick Longshore had grown up in an athletic family in Canyon City, California, where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. His grandfather played football for Tulane and his father played college basketball.

With his size — 6 foot 5 and nearly 300 pounds — Nick’s future was on the football field and he was recruited by the likes of Alabama, Auburn and UCLA out of high school. One younger brother, Nate, was the starting quarterback at Cal for two years, while Ben currently plays quarterback at Dixie State.

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