33-year-old Jeni Stepien became engaged to Paul Maenner back in October of 2015. One of her first thoughts in the week after Paul’s proposal, she tells The New York Times, was who she would walk down the aisle with. She wanted her father there, but Michael Stepien had been shot and robbed in 2006, and died not long after.
As her father lay dying, Jeni’s family decided to “accept the inevitable,” and donated his organs via the Center for Organ Recovery and Education. His heart went to a certain Arthur Thomas, who was days away from dying. Since the organization allows donor families and recipients to keep in touch, Arthur’s thank-you note was the start of a year-long relationship with the family.
So Jeni’s fiancé’s suggested to have Thomas walk his future wife down the aisle. After asking advice from his 30-year-old daughter, Thomas said yes. He warned Jeni that his emotions might get the best of him, but she put him at ease, saying she would be “right there with you.”
One day before the wedding, Thomas and the Stepien family met. He suggested she would grip his wrist while walking down the aisle, because that’s where the pulse of her father’s heart would be the strongest. “I thought that would be the best way for her to feel close to her dad.”
Nearly 10 years after Jeni’s father got killed, his heartbeat walked his daughter down the aisle in the church in Swissvale. “The murder and the wedding happened within a three-block radius. And I was just thinking, ‘My dad is here with us, and this man is here with us because of us.’” Thomas said he “felt wonderful about bringing her dad’s heart to Pittsburgh. If I had to, I would’ve walked.”