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Man Cried Over Decision To Receive Dead Grandson’s Heart

March 6, 1987

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ A man who received the heart of his grandson after the 16-year-old was killed in an accident had to be persuaded to go through with the operation, his daughter says.

Teri Nielson Simper said the first time she ever saw her father cry was when he learned her son Jonathan had died as a result of a car-train accident and his heart was available for transplant.

″Dad didn’t ever say he would not accept Jonathan’s heart, but his own heart was broken and he just kept looking at me and sobbing that he just couldn’t do it,″ she said.

″By the time doctors had assured him that the heart was an excellent match, our family had also convinced him that this is what Jonathan would want.″

Thomas A. Nielson, 61, of Logan, Utah, was believed to be the first recipient of a relative’s heart, said LDS Hospital spokesman Tim Madden. Nielson was in critical but stable condition in the Salt Lake City hospital Thursday after surgery.

Jonathan Simper was one of four teen-agers who died as a result of a car- train collision in rural northern Utah Tuesday night.

As devastating as it is for the Simpers and the parents of the teen-ager’s three female companions killed in the crash, Mrs. Simper said ″at least it is good to know that something good could come from this terrible, terrible tragedy.″

She said her son and Nielson always had a special relationship, possibly because the youngster was her father’s first grandson. The two grew even closer last summmer when the teen-ager worked for his grandfather on a masonry job, she said.

Craig Simper said he was sure his son would want his grandfather to have his heart.

″You’d have to have known this young man,″ he said. ″It was a sacrifice he would have consciously made before all this happened.″

Nielson began having heart pains when he heard of his grandson’s accident and was rushed to the hospital, according to his wife, Donna.

A few weeks ago, Nielson had been placed on a heart transplant list after physicians determined his condition was inoperable, Mrs. Nielson said.

Although Simper’s three companions died instantly, he was kept alive at an Ogden hospital long enough for the transplant to be arranged.

The three others killed in the crash were sisters Carrie Christensen, 16, and Sarah Christensen, 15, and Melisa Handy, 15.

At Box Elder High School in Brigham City, where all four teens were students, and at Box Elder Junior High, where the victims’ siblings attended school, many students cried as they standing outside and in hallways. Others either did not attend classes or talked with their teachers about death and friendships.

″It’s devastated the school,″ said Charles Woolum, the high school vice principal. ″Anytime you lose a student, it’s hard on the student body. But when you lose four outstanding people, it’s touched almost everyone.″

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