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Heart transplant recipient and donor's sister feel the love tonight at Elton John concert in Charlotte

New friends bonded by tragedy share importance of organ donation and find special meaning in songs.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Steve Hilfiker and Vannessa Blais went to Sir Elton John's show at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday night with special signs reading, "Heart transplant from Daniel" and "Daniel is my brother."

Their hope was to have the rock and roll legend notice them in the fifth row.

The Florida producer of "The Stoneheart documentary" was diagnosed with cardiac sarcoidosis in 2019.

Hilfiker said, "It all started in February of 2014. And I had 104 degree fever, and the flu test was negative. I was absolutely fine the next day. That was the moment of exposure, but I had a lingering cough that persisted and symptoms developed over the years, leading to heart failure. And I knew something was wrong."

He learned sarcoidosis could be treated but going undiagnosed for five years, he was told that he was likely going to need a heart transplant. He received his transplant in August of 2020. 

The donor was a North Carolina man named Daniel.

The donor's sister said, "Losing Daniel was very, very sudden and very unexpected. And it hurts. I mean, he's my little brother."

Since then, lyrics sung by the rocket man never meant so much than now to Hilfiker, especially words from Sir John's hit song, "Daniel."

Hilfiker said, "Metaphorically, it's Daniel, the heart transplant and us, such a powerful moment: Seeing this unfold and trying to balance the emotions of the true compassion and really feeling some of the grief of the family, especially after meeting Vannessa, to really understand what they're going through at the same time, have a second chance at life."

The two agreed another Elton John song, "Someone Saved my Life Tonight," also captured their connection.

Blais and Hilfiker met face to face for the first time in August of 2022, two years after the transplant.

Blais remembered listening to her brother's heart beat in Hilfiker. She said, "I was very emotional. I cried. I cried. I cried. And then afterward, I just embraced Steve and we had a very emotional bonding moment. There's no words. There really isn't."

 "There's so many myths behind organ donation, and we want to help to alleviate those myths and let more people come forward and donate their organs or sign up to donate their organs when the time comes," Blais said.

They hope Sir John would notice their signs and give them a shout out.

Hilfiker said because the singer is known for his causes, "He could do more in one sentence than I've done in two years since the heart transplant."

   

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