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Cross Lanes man meets organ donor’s friend

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail photo
Brett “Buzzy” Morgan, of Cross Lanes, visits with Julia Burgess of Suffolk, Virginia, after meeting her for the first time during a party at Coonskin Park Saturday marking the 10-year anniversary of his liver transplant. Burgess’s best friend, Devon Thornton, of Norfolk, Virginia, was Morgan’s donor.
Family and friends arrive at Coonskin Park Saturday for a party marking the 10-year anniversary of Brett “Buzzy” Morgan’s liver transplant.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail photo
A photo of Devon Thornton of Norfolk, Virginia, sits on the picnic table at Coonskin Park Saturday.

Brett “Buzzy” Morgan and his family celebrated the tenth anniversary of his liver transplant Saturday with a special guest — the best friend of his donor.

Morgan and Julia Burgess-Ballinger met for the first time during a celebration at Coonskin Park. They had corresponded for 10 years after the death of Burgess-Ballinger’s best friend and Morgan’s donor, Devon Thornton.

“It’s just amazing the connection you have,” Morgan, 57, of Cross Lanes, said. “Obviously her best friend died, so it’s kind of mixed emotions. What was so wonderful for my family was devastating for hers.”

Burgess-Ballinger, who traveled to the event from Suffolk, Virginia, said she thought Thornton always knew she would die young.

“Organ donation was so important to her,” Burgess-Ballinger said. “She would even be kind of a pest, she would go around and check people’s driver’s licenses to see if they had checked yes for donor. She felt really, really strongly about it.”

The two had been friends for 23 years. They met at high school in Hampton Rhodes, Virginia when they were 15 years old, and became “inseparable.”

Thornton was a disc jockey and personality at a local radio station.

“When I met her she seemed so incredibly familiar to me,” Burgess-Ballinger said. “You know how people say that someone is their life witness? That’s what she was to me. She was all about making people feel fabulous about themselves. She was hilarious. She was so funny. She was so good at public speaking. She ended up touching so many lives.”

Morgan was diagnosed with an idiopathic liver disease 22 years ago. The Morgans reached out to Thornton’s family after the transplant. Her family said it was too painful to keep in contact, but Burgess-Ballinger wanted to get to know them.

“We are so thankful to let them see our family, and meet their family to know what organ donation means because it’s just so important,” said Buzzy Morgan’s wife, Angie Morgan.

Burgess-Ballinger said Thornton would have loved the Morgans.

“Buzzy and Angie are the most amazing people in the world,” she said. “I know she’s here. I know she’s blessing Buzzy and doing whatever she can to make his life better.”

The two families wore T-shirts at the event that said #TEAMLIVER.

Angie Morgan said she wanted to help create awareness about the importance of organ donation, saying that the time of her husband’s illness was a “stressful and emotional” time.

“We’re not quitters. We’re the kind of people who keep going,” Angie Morgan said. “It’s hard but it’s doable. That’s what we want people to know. As hard as it can be, great things come from it.”

The two families are like “old friends,” Buzzy Morgan said.

Though the experience had been emotional, Burgess-Ballinger said she wouldn’t have missed it.

“It feels like it was meant to be,” she said.

Reach Kayla Asbury at, 304-348-5100 or follow @kasbury_ on Twitter

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