As Deborah Laughlin of Texas planned her wedding, she decided she wanted all four of her children to be involved in her big day. But one of her children could not attend the wedding.
Laughlin's son, Stefphen Jones, had passed away in October 2005. She brainstormed with friends trying to come up with a way to include her late son in her wedding somehow, along with her other children.
Laughlin told KRIS 6 News, "I was telling my best friend Lisa that I wanted to make a memorial chair for Stefphen so he'd be there. I had all these thoughts because I wanted him there with me."
As she struggled to come up with a way to honor Stefphen, Laughlin's fiance Shawn came up with a solution of his own to help his soon-to-be wife. He knew it was a long-shot, but sprang into action.
Stefphen had been an organ donor, with his organs going to five different recipients. Unbeknownst to his bride-to-be, Shawn reached out to all five recipients of Stefphen's organs through the Transplant Alliance, extending a wedding invitation to each of them.
Out of the five recipients, he only heard back from one of them, a man named Luis. Luis had received Stefphen's kidneys, pancreas, and blood. Shawn told reporters that Luis didn't hesitate to be included in the couple's special day.
"From day one, he was all about it," Shawn said.
Shawn planned for around a year and a half for Luis to attend the wedding that took place the weekend before Christmas, while Deborah's best friend, Lisa Smith, was in charge of introducing him to Deborah. Smith said of the surprise, "The only thing that was going through my head was either she's going to love this or I'm going to break my best friend."
Deborah began to put the pieces together during the reception as Smith approached her with Luis.
"When [Lisa] gets the guy, I'm thinking, 'Who is that?' And then once she comes up, I'm putting everything together and it dawned on me that he was probably my son's recipient. It was overwhelming," she said.
Deborah learned the story of Luis's organ transplant. "The doctors had told him that there was no more hope for him. Then he got the phone call at 4 a.m. in the morning. And by October 5 , he was receiving my son's organs," she recalled.
And although Stefphen will forever be missed, the Laughlins are grateful for the new incredible friendship that formed from a far-fetched idea. They have been in touch with Luis every day since the wedding, and plan to visit him at his home in Florida.
Shawn said of the experience, "I told Luis we don't all know God's plan but every once in a while you can see a fingerprint. And that definitely was."
And Deborah's reaction to her new husband planning the surprise?
"That's love. That's definitely love."