Benny and Tonya Lagmay sit together, next to a Christmas tree, in Tressa’s Bakery in Duvall. The glow from the tree lights enhances the pure joy and gratitude that beams from their faces. They have recently been given a gift, the greatest gift, the gift of life.
On October 3rd, Benny received a new heart.
Benny was diagnosed with an enlarged heart in 2002. His heart was three times the normal size. Since then, he has endured 10 major heart surgeries. His unwavering faith has kept him going, he says, always knowing that God had a plan for his life. In addition to his faith he had the constant and selfless support of his wife of 24 years, Tonya.
Benny knows that each day is a gift. He is doing great and has showed no signs of rejection. Since the transplant, the way he looks at life has changed. "I have always lived my life for my wife and kids. Now I am also living my life for myself and my donor."
He and Tonya now celebrate each holiday as a first. They just celebrated their first Thanksgiving with Benny’s new heart and are looking forward to celebrating their "first" Christmas together, with their family.
The gratitude Benny feels towards the family that donated his new heart is impossible to put into words. They are constantly on his mind, he says.
He was not given any information about the donor. He is allowed to write to the family, but has waited out of respect to give them time to grieve their loss. He plans to contact them before Christmas. He says he wants to know where his precious gift came from and the amazing story of their life.
Nationally there are over 3,000 people waiting for a new heart. The best way to help is to become a donor. During their own journey, Benny and Tonya met many people who were waiting for a heart. Some received new hearts, but some didn’t. Tears flow as thoughts of a young family, who lost their father, come to mind. Benny says he doesn’t know why he was given a heart but adds he and Tonya both know that God has a plan for Benny’s life.
Benny and Tonya’s wish is for people to love one another and to continue to reach out and help each other. They are forever grateful to Duvall residents for their endless support and continue to praise the community. The couple, who owned and operated Lei’s Restaurant on Main Street before Benny got sick, tell their friends and family in Hawaii that "The Aloha spirit is alive and well in Duvall!"
When asked what’s in the future, and if Lei’s will open again in Duvall?
Benny’s response, "I don’t know what the future holds but … it’s going to be good!"