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Tennessee father promotes organ donation after losing son

December 20, 2020 GMT
CORRECTS FIRST NAME FROM BEN TO BENTON - In this photo provided by Tennessee Donor Services, Joe Foster listens to the transplanted heart of his son, Benton Foster, in the chest of Carlo Rosario on Oct. 29, 2019, after the two met for the first time at the Nashville VA Medical Center. Foster, a retired paramedic, saw the good that organ donation can do firsthand over a long career, but when his son died suddenly, he went from supporter to evangelist. (Tennessee Donor Services via AP)
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CORRECTS FIRST NAME FROM BEN TO BENTON - In this photo provided by Tennessee Donor Services, Joe Foster listens to the transplanted heart of his son, Benton Foster, in the chest of Carlo Rosario on Oct. 29, 2019, after the two met for the first time at the Nashville VA Medical Center. Foster, a retired paramedic, saw the good that organ donation can do firsthand over a long career, but when his son died suddenly, he went from supporter to evangelist. (Tennessee Donor Services via AP)
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CORRECTS FIRST NAME FROM BEN TO BENTON - In this photo provided by Tennessee Donor Services, Joe Foster listens to the transplanted heart of his son, Benton Foster, in the chest of Carlo Rosario on Oct. 29, 2019, after the two met for the first time at the Nashville VA Medical Center. Foster, a retired paramedic, saw the good that organ donation can do firsthand over a long career, but when his son died suddenly, he went from supporter to evangelist. (Tennessee Donor Services via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Joe Foster, a retired paramedic, saw the good that organ donation can do firsthand over a long career, but when his 23-year-old son died suddenly of a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2017, he went from supporter to evangelist.

“About a month after Benton died, we got a letter that he had saved four people’s lives,” Foster said during a recent videoconference interview from his home in Columbia, Tennessee. “A 2 year old got a kidney. A 10 year old got the other kidney and his liver. A 55 year old got his lungs.”

The fourth recipient was Carlo Rosario. Then 62, the Vietnam veteran had suffered from a chronic heart condition for many years and says he did not have long to live when he got the word that a donated heart was available.

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“If it wasn’t for (Benton Foster), I wouldn’t be here,” Rosario said. “Everywhere I go, I give testament to how it happened to me.”

Last year, Joe Foster got to meet Rosario for the first time. Recalling how he used a stethoscope to listen to his son’s heart beating in Rosario’s chest, Foster choked up and couldn’t talk for several seconds. Then he said, “It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard. To hear his heart beating, and to see the person who was going to die but now is doing really great. ... Words can’t describe it.”

The two have stayed in touch on Facebook through the pandemic. Foster had hoped Rosario would come to Tennessee to make an appearance at an annual Christmas concert that Foster’s band puts on. It’s a fundraiser for the local high school band, but recently it’s also become a way for Foster to promote organ donation.

Foster said people are moved to become organ donors when they see the face of a real person whose life was saved. Last year, the woman who received his son’s lungs came to the show, and several people told Foster afterwards that they were signing up to become donors.

Foster has also agreed to be an ambassador for Donate Life Tennessee, speaking to groups about organ donation. But with COVID-19 cases in Tennessee at their highest levels ever, both the speaking events and the Christmas concert are on hold.

Foster now hopes Rosario will be his special guest at the Christmas concert in 2021. In the meantime, Rosario, speaking by phone from his home in Hartford, Connecticut, said he prays for Foster and his family, “every day, every day. In the morning, and at night, because I want them to have hope and faith.”

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This story was first published on December 19, 2020. It was updated on December 20, 2020 to correct the first name of the organ donor to Benton.