If you're a bride who's close to her pops, you probably couldn't imagine not having your father walk you down the aisle on the big day. Not only is it tradition, but it's a monumental milestone that's bound to stir up a bevy of emotions in both of you and your dear old dad. And us, as well! That father/daughter walk down the aisle pretty much always has us reaching for the tissues! But there aren't enough Kleenex in the world to catch our tears while watching this Pennsylvania bride make her grand entrance. Although Jeni Stepien's father was unable to physically walk her down the aisle after his tragic death, he still did so in spirit — as Stepien was escorted down the aisle by the man who received her father's donated heart. We're not crying, you're crying...
In September 2006, Stepien's father was shot and killed after a robbery attempt, and his family had his organs donated. His heart went to a New Jersey man named Arthur Thomas, who had been diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia 16 years before and was in congestive heart failure when his transplant came through. "He was going to die if he did not receive a new heart in the next several days," the bride explained to The Huffington Post.
Thomas survived thanks to the Stepien family, and stayed in touch with them via letters and phone calls. Almost a decade later, Stepien was engaged. "When my fiancé proposed, one of the first things I thought of was 'But who will walk me down the aisle?' I could think of nobody more meaningful than Tom," she said. "My fiancé suggested I write him a letter. That way Tom would feel in no way obligated or pressured by my request."
And that's how Thomas made the trek from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, without a lick of hesitation, to walk Stepien down the aisle. "I felt wonderful about bringing her dad's heart to Pittsburgh," Thomas declared to The New York Times. "If I had to, I would've walked."
Thomas met Stepien and her family for the first time just a day ahead of the wedding, where he had the bride touch her fingers to his wrist. "I thought that would be the best way for her to feel close to her dad," Thomas said. "That's her father's heart beating."
The next day — the big day — Thomas walked Stepien down the church aisle and before he passed her off to her fiancé, she touched his chest to feel her father's heart beating once more.
"The murder and the wedding happened within a three-block radius" the bride explained. "And I was just thinking, 'My dad is here with us, and this man is here with us because of us.'"
Cue the waterworks...