‘Heartbeat’ of life-saving friendship still beating strong 25 years later

Published: Nov. 13, 2021 at 11:27 AM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - A tragic accident resulting in the death of a 19-year-old led to a lifelong friendship. WALB News 10′s Molly Godley spoke with a family who lost their son and brother. He was an organ donor. His selfless decision gave another man life.

Bryan Williams is the son of Ruth and Bob Tilley. Together, they’re parents to 43 kids.

“That’s birth children, adopted, and foster children,” said Ruth.

Ruth and Bob Tilley
Ruth and Bob Tilley(WALB)

Bryan was a student at Westover and a part of ROTC. Ruth describes him as a caring person.

“He was thoughtful enough that he wanted to be an organ donor,” said Ruth.

Walking home from school one day, he was hit by a car on Gillionville Road, rushed to the hospital and passed away after 72 hours.

“He was 19,″ said Ruth.

About a year later, they got a letter from a stranger who would soon be a lifelong friend. Joe Stott is the man who received Bryan’s heart.

Joe Stott
Joe Stott(WALB)

“Without that transplant, I would’ve been gone 25 years ago,” said Stott.

Joe was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure when he was in his late 40s. The doctors didn’t have good news.

“It would be five to seven years max that I could go. I was so weak. I could not peel an orange,” said Stott.

Bryan’s decision to be an organ donor changed Joe’s life forever. In the letter, Joe sent to the Tilleys he told them what this gift of life had done.

Their son Bryan and friend Joe
Their son Bryan and friend Joe(WALB)

“Through their gift, I was able to see my family grow,” said Stott.

Now, Joe competes in the World Transplant Games. He described it as being like the Olympics. In those games, he brought home the gold in singles bowling and the silver in doubles bowling. An achievement he said typically gets engraved on the back of the medal. Joe chose differently.

“I told them if you’re going to put something on the back of the medal, put something that counts. Put ‘thank you, Bryan,’ because without him there would be no score,” said Stott.

Stott's medal
Stott's medal(WALB)

Now 25 years later, the Tilleys and Joe described each other as family.

“I feel like I’ve got a mom, dad, brother, sisters, and all right here,” said Stott.

They hope their story can inspire more people to give the gift of life.

“I’d like to see more people donate. There’s a lot of people that have passed because they couldn’t get organs. Any donation is helpful,” said Bob.

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