Murdered man's mom has heart-to-heart meeting with organ recipient

Murdered man's mom has heart-to-heart meeting with organ recipient

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Two years after her son's death, a Jonesboro woman finds closure in an unexpected place.

Viola Turner lost her 20-year-old son Albert Spencer on January 12, 2013, after he was shot in the head while visiting a friend in Memphis.

"I'll never forget that night," Turner said. "But God gave me the strength to get through it."

Turner said her son was pursuing a pediatric nursing degree and attended the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, as well as Phillips Community College.

Spencer was an organ donor and following his death, Viola said she was contacted by an employee with Mid-South Transplant about donating Spencer's organs.

Turner selected 7 of Spencer's organs to be used in the donation.

Of those organs, Spencer's heart was used in a transplant for then 64-year-old James Whibbenmeyer.

Whibbenmeyer suffered from heart failure for 20 years before receiving his transplant.

Those two decades were difficult for Whibbenmeyer and his family.

"I was very short of breath, I couldn't walk a long distance and I just felt bad all the time," Whibbenmeyer said. "I was just tired and worn out."

In November 2012, Whibbenmeyer was placed on the waiting list to receive a heart transplant.

The very thing that he thought would keep him on the waiting list longer turned out to be what sped up the process.

"I'm AB positive, I have somewhat of a rare blood type," Whibbenmeyer said. "The doctors told me I'm a universal recipient and they said that would work in my advantage."

On January 18, 2013, Whibbenmeyer received his transplant then began a long recovery process.

His memories of the surgery are very vague. Days passed before he woke up from the surgery and was able to talk to his wife.

"It took a few weeks before I came around and could actually recognize people and carry on a conversation," he said.

After months of recovery, Whibbenmeyer began communicating with Turner through letters and over the phone until April 24, 2015, when they finally met face to face.

"I know Mr. Whibbenmeyer was standing there but I saw beyond that," Turner said. "I saw my baby. The first day I held him, the first day I heard his cry."

Both families grew closer as they spent the weekend together in Memphis and discussed spending the holidays together.

Turner is working to establish a non-profit organization called Colors for Cause, aimed at helping families of transplant recipients.

She also plans to create a support group called Mothers on the Move Against Gun Violence.

Contact Turner at 870-253-8692 or email her at for more information.

Turner has published a book called Tears from the Heart which features poetry written by her deceased son Albert Spencer.

As for the man who shot and killed him, he's behind bars awaiting trial.

"I look forward to the day to sit down and talk with him to let him know personally that I forgive him and that I love him," Turner said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 123,404 people are waiting for an organ. Each day 21 people die waiting for an organ. One organ donor can save up to 8 lives. For more information on organ donation and to learn how you can become a donor, click here.

Copyright 2015 KAIT. All rights reserved.