JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Richard Bremer knew in his two and a half years on the lung transplant list that his life would be saved by another family's loss.
But he never imagined he'd have a chance to renew that family's faith.
Or that the woman who breathed life back into him would visit him as he lay on the operating table.
“She was there the whole time, helping me get through this,” Richard said of the vivid encounter two years ago. “There is life after death, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I believe that I got to see it. She stepped out of the light and came back and told me it wasn’t my time and she would be breathing for me. She’s been doing it ever since.”
When Richard woke up after the 10-hour surgery in 2016, his donor's encouraging words were still in his ears.
And to his surprise, her face was on the television in his room.
Megan Twist, 23, died in November 2016 when she fell off her boyfriend’s moving pickup truck in Brunswick, Georgia. That man is facing charges in her death, including vehicular manslaughter.
In late December that year, News4Jax spoke with Megan's family about her choice to be an organ donor and the comfort it brought her loved ones knowing her life would continue in others.
'Truly a miracle'
Richard said he recognized Megan on the TV right away -- and he tried to tell his family.
“I didn’t know her name. I just knew that was the girl,” Richard said of his encounter during surgery. “She was with me. She’s been here the whole time. That was what I was trying to say, but I had so many hoses hooked to me and all the stuff attached to me I couldn’t talk.”
From his hospital bed, he wrote a note to his family. On it, he said, “Megan never left my side.”
Like most organ recipients, Richard was given contact information for his donor's family. He wanted them to know she'd been with him during the operation.
“God allowed that for us, I believe, through Richard to comfort a very, very shattered family,” Megan's mother, Barbara Bernatos said. “It has meant the world to us.”
Meeting Richard -- and seeing him breathe with Megan's lungs -- was emotional for Megan's family.
“To see his chest rising up and down again. For him to be able to breathe because of the gift of life that she gave him -- it’s just truly a miracle,” Megan's sister, Carolyn Hostetler, said.
When Richard met Megan's family, he brought a batch of Ghirardelli brownies.
He said that during his encounter with Megan, she'd made him some.
“I said I was hungry, tired. I’m just tired. I can’t do this anymore, and she told me it was not my time,” Richard recalled of the experience, which took place in the 15 minutes doctors said he was not breathing on his own during the operation.
Her family was astounded by the detail of the brownies.
That specific brand was a Megan specialty, her sister, Katie Williams, said.
“If he had said, 'She made me cupcakes' or 'She brought me a cake' that wouldn't have meant as much to me as when he said brownies,” Williams said. “That was a specific thing that she was known for doing in our family -- always making the brownies.”
Richard called them “heavenly” brownies.
Megan's mom thought it was a fitting description.
“They were good,” she said.
Richard said that the day before the reunion with Megan's family, he visited a bookstore, looking for NASCAR-type magazines.
In the middle of the car section, he spotted a Beatles book.
Megan loved the Beatles. He knew it was a sign from her and bought the book for Megan's mother.
He gave it to Bernatos when they met the next day.
She said Richard's encounter with her daughter and the signs the family has been given since renewed her faith. She believes without a doubt she will see her youngest child again one day.
Megan didn't just save Richard.
- Her organs saved four other lives, too.
- Her heart went to a 39-year-old man.
- Her right kidney helped a 25-year-old woman.
- Her liver went to a 64-year-old woman.
- Her left kidney and pancreas were donated to a 39-year-old woman.
Knowing her life saved others has brought her family some peace – and one of her sisters found a new purpose.
Hostetler was so inspired by her family's experience with her sister's life-giving donations that she moved to Tampa to work for LifeLink, an organ donation foundation.
She and the rest of her family hope to spread awareness about the importance of organ donation.
“This has been a blessing for us, and it has given us something to hold onto of her here on earth,” Megan's sister, Jane Hixon, said. “I would encourage people to check the box to become an organ donor. You don’t need those organs when you go.”
Richard is certainly grateful Megan chose to check that box. He thanks her -- and her family -- with every breath.