‘It was really kind of a joyful event’: Former Husker coach Barney Cotton meets his heart donor’s mom

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Friday would have been Nathanael Garza’s 24th birthday, had he not been killed in a tragic accident in 2019.

“I got a phone call at three o’clock in the morning from policemen at a hospital,” his mother, Amanda, said. “He said that there had been a terrible accident and that, Nathanael, it didn’t look good, and we needed to get to the hospital right away.”

Amanda knew her son wanted to be an organ donor and jumped into action as soon as she got to the hospital.

“I immediately, without hesitation, wanted the Gift of Life in there,” she said. “I knew as soon as they got in there, they start helping me save lives and if my child was no longer going to live, then I wanted his organs to be donated.”

As the Garzas went through the terrible loss in their hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, former assistant football coach for the Huskers, Barney Cotton, was battling the late stages of heart failure.

“I ended up in intensive care and I’d really fallen off the cliff,” Cotton said. “I had to have a balloon pump put in to help my heart beat.”

Now, Amanda and Barney have an unlikely connection, as Nathanael’s heart beats in Barney’s chest. Four years after the transplant, the two got to meet each other in person for the first time.

“It was really kind of a joyful event,” Cotton said. “We’re out there hugging in the driveway; we hadn’t even made it in the house yet.”

Amanda said she’s filled with joy knowing her son was able to give others a second chance.

“It’s given me gratitude that my son lives on in another human being,” she said. “Nathanael was able to save six people’s lives with his seven organs.”

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