They shared the same laugh, the same goofy spirit and the same favorite color — red.
Deanna Anderson, 3, also has a new liver thanks to Kenneth Romero, who died three years ago at age 23 from an asthma attack.
Deanna was only 3 months old when doctors told her parents, Heidi and Eric, that their child’s rare liver disease meant she wouldn’t live to her first birthday.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt weaker in my life,” Heidi Anderson, 35, recalled Friday at a National Donate Life event at Miami-Dade Fire Rescue headquarters in Doral.
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In front of her, Deanna preened and posed for cameras, laughing and shaking her curly reddish-blond hair. She wore a blue and green tutu — a nod to her favorite hobby — and a T-shirt that read, “The greatest hero I ever knew was the donor who saved my life.” “Kenneth,” in glittery black script, was emblazoned on the back.
Deanna’s parents couldn’t picture their only daughter making it out of the hospital. Her father, 46-year-old Eric Anderson, pointed to his Facebook profile picture, a close-up of him kissing his infant daughter’s cheek as she lay in her hospital crib.
“This picture is basically me kissing her goodbye,” he said. “I thought that was it.”
Salvation came to the Anderson family through the generosity of the Romero family. Kenneth Romero, a 23-year-old married graduate student, died of an asthma attack in February 2014. His older sister, Ruth, tried to save him with CPR, but he didn’t make it. He had agreed to donate his organs at age 15, when he checked the box on his license.
His organs saved five lives, including baby Deanna’s.
On Feb. 27, shortly after his death, Deanna received a portion of his liver in a transplant procedure performed by the University of Miami Health System.
The week her daughter was put on the transplant list, Heidi signed up to be a donor. She had chosen not to at 15 because, “I was a little scared. I’ll be honest,” she said.
Now, she said she couldn’t be more grateful for every person who donates their organs. “Without the donor, there is no story,” Heidi said. “There is no life.”
Last year, 1,250 South Floridians donated their organs, said Dr. A. Sam Salama, executive director of Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency. Their donations led to 153,000 transplants for his tissue bank. The numbers were met with applause and cheers from the crowd, who gathered to celebrate the second annual National Donate Life Blue and Green day.
Donor families, transplant recipients and families shared their stories with the crowd. Almost every story left the room sniffling and crying.
Then came the Andersons’ time to share their story. Afterward, the Romero family was led in, and the two families met for the first time in an emotional embrace that left the audience in tears. As Maria, Kenneth’s mom, and Heidi held each other tight and sobbed, Deanna pranced around with the “Frozen”-themed dolls the Romero family brought her.
The two families, who’d been texting for the month leading up to the celebration, exchanged bracelets (red, of course) and a stuffed panda bear programmed to play a recording of Deanna saying “This is Deanna. Thank you. I love you so much.”
Deanna pulled up her “Kenneth” shirt on Friday and showed Ruth the pale scar that stretches across her torso.
“It’s a little bit of our heart. You have to take care of it and cherish it forever,” Ruth said as she looked into Heidi’s eyes. Ruth turned and looked at Deanna. “She is also a little bit of us,” she said. “It’s our duty to care for her.”
Heidi promised they would always be a family and would honor Kenneth’s gift every chance they could.
“What’s the magic words, Deanna?” Heidi asked.
The toddler stopped, turned to her mother and smiled. “Please, thank you and donate life!”
Register here to be an organ donor.