Nurse Adopts Homeless Man with Autism So He Can Get a Heart Transplant

Pierre Van ZylLearn, parenting

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“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” – Barbara De Angelis

When 27-year-old Jonathan Pinkard found out last year that he needed a heart transplant, he was devastated. Pinkard, who also has autism, had no money, no family, and no place to call home. How was he ever going to get through something as serious as a heart surgery on his own? He was denied a slot on the heart waiting list because he had nobody to look after him following the procedure. 

Pinkard, who lives in Warm Springs, Georgia, had been put up at a men’s shelter for a while. He’d been on his own since 2014 after his grandmother died and a relative he’d been staying with couldn’t accommodate him any longer. His mother is in a rehabilitation center. 

“It was a pretty scary situation to be in,” said Pinkard, who works as an office clerk somewhere in town, to the Washington Post [1]. “I had no idea what I was going to do.”

A guardian angel

Pinkard met Nurse Lori Wood when he returned to the Piedmont Newnan Hospital after he passed out at work four months later. Two days after he was admitted, Wood, 57, had already found out everything troubling the young man’s life. As a nurse with 35 years of experience, she’d seen her fair share of touching stories and impossible situations. However, something about this young man struck her deeply. 

She invited him to move in with her while they applied for a new heart the second time. She was going to be his guardian and take care of him all the way. It broke her heart to see someone who couldn’t get medical help because he was all alone in the world.

“That can be very frustrating if you know a patient needs something, and for whatever reason, they can’t have it,” she said. “It gnaws at you. At some point, God places people in situations in your life, and you have a choice to do something about it. For me, there was no choice. I’m a nurse; I had an extra room. It was not something I struggled with. He had to come home with me.”

Wood, a single mom-of-three, lives with one of her sons a spare room for someone else in her home. She consulted with her sons before bringing Pinkard home, and they all consented to the idea. Wood took Pinkard with her after she was discharged and welcomed him into her home in Hogansville, Georgia [2].

“I couldn’t believe that somebody who had known me only two days would do this,” Pinkard said. “It was almost like a dream. She’s been ‘Mama’ to me since January.”

They became family

Wood said she clicked immediately with him on the first day they went home. They shared similar interests and she knew they would do just fine.

“I went to the store for groceries, and when I came home, he was watching ‘Family Feud’ — the same show I always have on after work,” Wood said. “So right then, I said, ‘We’re going to get along fine.’”

They also share a love for football, although they support different college football teams. While Wood is a Georgia fan, Pinkard is an Alabama fan. The rivalry would make the games more interesting to watch.

Pinkard moved in with her in January, and he had his surgery in August. The seven-hour operation was successful and it was then up to Wood to get him through what has been a long recovery. A month before the surgery, in July, Wood went through the legal processes to adopt Pinkard and become his guardian. However, Pinkard insists she became his mom the day she took him in.

Wood has been doing so much to take great care of Pinkard. She shuttles between her job and driving him to doctor’s appointments, making sure he’s eating right, taking his medications and avoiding high-sodium containing foods.

Wood is preparing Pinkard for a time when he may want to be on his own. Although she would be happy if he stayed on with her as one of her own, he is still a young man with his entire life ahead of him. He’s been recovering so well that the doctors are certain he’ll be cleared to resume work soon.

I’m teaching him how to cook healthy meals, with a goal of him becoming more independent,” Wood said. “Jonathan wants a girlfriend; he wants to get a car. He’s welcome to stay here as long as he wants to, but I also know that he deserves to have his own life. So at some point, when he’s ready, we’re going to try to make that happen.”

Pace-setting kindness

For her remarkable display of benevolence, Wood received The President’s Award for Nurses in October at an event held at the Piedmont Healthcare hospital. The award goes to outstanding nurses for significant contributions to their profession and the community. The hospital chose Wood for “going above and beyond” for Pinkard.

“Lori gave Jonathan a new life, a new heart, and a new family,” said Piedmont Newnan chief executive Mike Robertson. “Because of her and what she’s done, we all want to become better people and caregivers.”

Pinkard’s life turned around the day he met Wood, and even though he may start a better life for himself soon, she’ll always be his “Mama Lori”, his saving grace.

“I feel like I’m one of her sons,” he said. “All I can say is, ‘Thank you, Mama Lori. Thank you. I love you.’ 

The world needs more people like Nurse Wood. 

  1. Cathy Free. Nurse ‘adopts’ homeless man she just met so he can get a heart transplant. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/11/09/nurse-adopts-homeless-man-she-just-met-so-he-can-get-heart-transplant/. Retrieved 26-11-19
  2. Jacob Geanous. Nurse ‘adopts’ homeless stranger so he can get a heart transplant. Metro. https://metro.co.uk/2019/11/13/nurse-adopts-homeless-stranger-can-get-heart-transplant-11091420/. Retrieved 26-11-19

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