NEWPORT BEACH ( — A mother and son flew from Arizona to Newport Beach Wednesday to meet a 74-year-old man whose life they helped save 20 years ago.

Beating inside Dennis Harwood’s chest is the heart that once belonged to 32-year-old Dusty Atkinson, who died of a brain aneurysm in 1992.

Debbie Atkinson, Dusty’s widow, followed her husband’s wishes and donated his organs after his untimely death.

It took Debbie and her son, Nick, more than 20 years to agree to meet the man who received Dusty’s heart.

The emotional meeting between Harwood and the Atkinsons took place at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where the transplant was performed.

“I can’t express the thanks. I know it’s been tough and it’s hard for me to appreciate the fact that somebody’s not here so I can be here,” said Harwood.

Debbie said she wanted to meet Harwood to get closure and hear Dusty’s heart beat one more time.

“You said you wanted to put your head on my chest and listen,” Harwood told Debbie.

“But I don’t want your wife to get upset,” Debbie joked before she pressed her face to his chest and cried.

Of the 34 people who received heart transplants performed by cardiac specialists Aiden Raney and Douglas Zusman in 1992, Harwood is the only one who is still alive, according to the Orange County Register.

Statistically, a heart transplant recipient lives five to 10 years after surgery.

Harwood, who received the transplant when he was 53 years old, now has a 52-year-old heart.

Dr. Raney and Dr. Zusman were also at the meeting between Harwood and the heart donor’s family.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)


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