When 71-year-old Skip walked onto a Segoville, Texas, baseball field on a sweltering summer day, dozens of young players — most in their early 20s — lined up to meet him as if he were a celebrity. To them, he was a celebrity, because beating inside Skip’s chest was the heart of their teammate Matthew “Cody” Corker, who’d died just one year earlier.
Skip, a Collin County man, let each boy put his head up to his chest so that they could listen to Cody’s heart beat. “These big guys could not believe what they were hearing and they would start to cry,” Annette Hernandez, Cody’s mother, says.
It wasn’t all tears, though. Skip cracked jokes and made the guys laugh, which is exactly what Cody would have done, his mother says. If you were in a room with Cody, he had you laughing. “Mama, it’s like I’m talking to Cody,” one of the players told Annette after he’d talked to Skip for a while. (All the players call Cody’s mom “Mama.”)
Being around Skip allowed the players to see firsthand all the good that had come from Cody’s decision to donate his organs after a car crash killed the 22-year-old, along with two of his friends. For Annette, though, being around Skip gave her her life back. During the first year after Cody’s death, the sadness was almost unbearable.
“It was so hard to lose that boy of ours,” Annette says. But when Skip called Annette, one year after receiving Cody’s heart, her life brightened. “He saved our life.”
Though Cody had not signed up on the official donor registry, DonateLifeTexas.org, Annette knew her son wanted to donate his organs if anything happened to him. He’d told her during a conversation in January 2008, when Annette sat down with Cody and his older sister, Ashley, to go over her personal files. She wanted them to know where everything was in case something ever happened to her. She also told them that she wanted to be an organ donor.
“Me too, Mama,” Annette recalls Cody saying. “If that can help someone, then I want to do it.”
On July 18, 2008 — just six months after their conversation — Annette was playing softball with her own team. She had an odd feeling about Cody. She went home and showered, with the feeling still weighing on her. She asked God to watch over her only son. At 10:30 p.m., she received a phone call from Cody’s girlfriend, who was screaming into the phone, saying that Cody had been in a car accident and the two others who were with him had died.
When Annette saw her son in the hospital, she knew he wasn’t going to survive his injuries. Honoring her son’s wishes, she consented to donating Cody’s organs.
Two days later, 70-year-old Skip received Cody’s heart. One year after Skip’s transplant, and after exchanging anonymous letters with Annette through Southwest Transplant Alliance, he called Annette. They then set a date to meet each other at a restaurant.
As Annette and Ashley waited for Skip and his family to arrive, they watched several elderly patrons come through the doors. One used a walker. Another was breathing with the help of an oxygen tank.
Then she heard a loud engine from a brand new Mustang that had just driven up in the restaurant’s parking lot. In walked Skip, as vibrant as man in his 30’s, with his wife, Nancy. The two families ate together and shared their stories.
Skip shared one story that especially touched Annette. He told her about losing one of his sons in a car accident many years earlier. His son also was an organ donor.
After that first meeting, Skip came to several of Annette’s softball games and watched Cody’s team play as well. “He’d call me and check up on me. He knew how I felt because he’d been there, too,” Annette says.
Skip lived for three and a half years with Cody’s heart before dying from lung cancer in 2012. At his funeral, several of Skip’s family and friends shared their memories of him at the funeral. “If I closed my eyes and just listened to them speak,” Annette says, “they could have been talking about Cody.”
Though she’ll never get over the loss of her son, Annette says that the experience of donating Cody’s organs has been good. “Skip was such a blessing to me,” Annette says. “He gave me back my life.”