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ICU Nurse Adopts Homeless Man with Autism So He Can Have a Life-Saving Heart Transplant

"I feel like I'm one of her sons. All I can say is, 'Thank you, Mama Lori. Thank you. I love you."

After passing out and ending up in the hospital last year, 27-year-old Jonathan Pinkard learned that he needed a heart transplant — but that he couldn't go on the transplant list because he was homeless and had no support system to help him recover. "It was a pretty scary situation to be in," Pinkard told The Washington Post. "I had no idea what I was going to do." But when he met 57-year-old ICU nurse Lori Wood, who had been assigned to care for him, his life changed forever: Wood invited him to come live with her. Today, following Wood's adoption of Pinkard last summer, the pair are officially mother and son, and Wood has been honored by the hospital for her dedication to ensuring Pinkard received the care he needed. "He would have died without the transplant," she asserted to Today. "I had to help him. It was a no-brainer."

Pinkard, who is autistic, had been working as an office clerk and living in a men's shelter in Warm Springs, Georgia when he had his health crisis. His grandmother, who had been his guardian, had passed away in 2012, and with his mother in a rehab facility, he had no family support. That made him ineligible for the transplant list, explains Anne Paschke, spokesperson for United Network for Organ Sharing.

"If you get a transplant and don’t take your immunosuppressive drugs, you’re going to lose it," she points out. "They’re going to look at things like do you show up for appointments and follow doctors orders?" For someone like Pinkard, with an unstable living situation and no help, following the complex post-transplant drug regimen and recovery instructions would be almost impossible.

Wood first met Pinkard last December when another health crisis landed him back at Piedmont Newnan Hospital near Atlanta. In 35 years of nursing, Woods has always kept her personal and professional lives separate, but Pinkard's case gnawed at her. "That can be very frustrating if you know a patient needs something, and for whatever reason they can’t have it or receive it," Wood observes in a video shared on the hospital's Facebook page.

"At some point," she reflects, "God places people in situations in your life, and you have a choice to do something about it. For me, there was no choice. I’m a nurse; I had an extra room. It was not something I struggled with. He had to come home with me." For his part, Pinkard was astounded when she invited him to come live with her. "I couldn't believe that somebody who had known me only two days would do this," he marvels. "It was almost like a dream."

She drove Pinkard to her home, where she lives with one of her three adult sons and helped him settle in. She quickly discovered they had a lot in common. "I went to the store for groceries, and when I came home, he was watching 'Family Feud' — the same show I always have on after work," she laughs. "So right then, I said, 'We’re going to get along fine.'" She started driving him to doctor's appointments and ensuring that he took his medication.

Wood also began the process of legally adopting Pinkard, and officially became his legal guardian in July, right before his heart transplant. With Pinkard recovering at home, Wood says it's been a delight to come home from work; he waits on the front porch for her and, she recounts, "before I even get out of the car, he's right there, hollering, 'Hey, Mama!' and wanting a hug."

For her compassionate and generous act, Wood was recently recognized by her hospital. One of her fellow nurses nominated her for the 360 President's Award which recognizes "deserving employees who go above and beyond for patients, visitors or their co-workers," and Wood was the 2018-2019 winner. " Piedmont Newnan's CEO Mike Mike Robertson says that he was amazed when he heard Wood and Pinkard's story. "Most caregivers have big hearts, but I have not seen any nearly as close to Lori," he said in the video announcement for the award. "You've given Jonathan a new life, a new heart, a new family.... Thank you for leading the way and being that positive example."

With his recovery going well, Pinkard hopes to return to his office clerk job next month. Looking toward the future, The Washington Post reports that Wood is now focused on helping him achieve the life he wants. "I’m teaching him how to cook healthy meals, with a goal of him becoming more independent," she says. "Jonathan wants a girlfriend; he wants to get a car. He’s welcome to stay here as long as he wants to, but I also know that he deserves to have his own life. So at some point, when he’s ready, we’re going to try to make that happen." In the meantime, Pinkard is overjoyed to have a loving, supportive home. "I feel like I’m one of her sons," he says. "All I can say is, 'Thank you, Mama Lori. Thank you. I love you.'"

Books About Compassionate Mighty Girls and Women

Extra Yarn

Extra Yarn

Written by: Mac Barnett
Illustrated by: Jon Klassen
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

Young Annabelle's box of extra yarn seems never ending: her monochrome town ends up colorful and bright as she knits clothing for everyone around her — people, pets, and even objects get a warm new coat and a new outlook! In fact, the town has never been so happy. But when a greedy archduke tries to buy — and then steal — the box of extra yarn for himself, he may discover that the magic of the extra yarn isn't in what it can do for; it's what it lets you do for others. This quirky story, with its expressive and hilarious illustrations which won a Caldecott Honor, celebrates the power of how one person's kindness can transform a community.

Plant a Kiss

Plant a Kiss

Written by: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds
Recommended Age: 3 - 8

Beloved author Amy Krouse Rosenthal takes the phrase “to plant a kiss” and makes it literal when the Little Miss of this book plants a real kiss in the ground. After tending it carefully — lots of sunshine and water — a glittering sprout grows. Now Little Miss is going to share the kiss she planted with the whole wide world! This beautiful conceptual book about kindness, generosity, and love is a reminder that simple gestures can grow far beyond the giver — and that anyone can be the one to start something that leads to “eternal bliss.”

Wolf in the Snow

Wolf in the Snow

Written by: Matthew Cordell
Illustrated by: Matthew Cordell
Recommended Age: 4 - 7

A little girl becomes a hero to a vulnerable wolf cub in this touching wordless picture book. When a blizzard whips up on her way home from school, the girl is concentrating on getting home... until she spots the cub, who is far to little to survive alone. So, fearlessly, the girl takes the cub over streams and past other dangers to return it to its mother. And when it turns out that the long walk has left the girl in her own predicament, the wolf pack comes together to return the favor. Fascinating details in the expressive illustrations provide enticement to reread this charming story over and over.

Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids

Have You Filled a Bucket Today: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids

Written by: Carol McCloud
Illustrated by: David Messing
Recommended Age: 4 - 8

This popular book uses the metaphor of invisible buckets to describe self-esteem. Author Carol McCloud teaches kids that people feel good when the bucket is full and sad or angry when it’s empty. By showing how you can “fill” a bucket (through kindness, compassion, and appreciation of others) or “dip” from a bucket (by being mean or exclusionary), kids can easily understand how their actions affect others’ emotions. Younger kids can learn about bucket filling in Fill A Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children for ages 2 to 6, while older kids can expand on the lessons with Growing Up With A Bucket Full of Happiness: Three Rules for a Happier Life for ages 8 and up.

Start Now! You Can Make a Difference

Start Now! You Can Make a Difference

Written by: Chelsea Clinton
Recommended Age: 7 - 11

Activism can sometimes seem overwhelming — but there are problems large and small that kids can tackle every day! In this book, Chelsea Clinton addresses five key concepts — health, hunger, climate change, endangered species, and bullying — and shows kids how to start solving them, either individually, locally, or globally. Each chapter ends with a "Start Now!" bullet list, providing suggestions for young would-be activists to take first steps towards big changes. Kids will particularly love the photographs of real kids, just like them, who have started leading the way for people around them.

Pictures of Hollis Woods

Pictures of Hollis Woods

Written by: Patricia Reilly Giff
Recommended Age: 8 - 13

Hollis Woods has been in and out of many foster homes. Her last foster family, the Regans, could have given her a permanent home, but she ran away after she convinced herself that she had ruined her opportunity for a family. Her new foster mother, the eccentric elderly artist Josie, seems a perfect match for the equally artistic Hollis — but then Josie starts succumbing to dementia. Hollis is determined not to let Social Services find out, so she decides to run away one more time — and take Josie with her. This story, told through a combination of scenes in the present and Hollis’ drawings representing memories of the past, is a sensitive, nuanced portrayal of a girl seeking the “perfect family.”

You May Already Be A Winner

You May Already Be A Winner

Written by: Ann Dee Ellis
Recommended Age: 9 - 12

Olivia has a plan to get her family out of Sunny Pines Trailer Park: fourteen sweepstakes entries a day. Of course, she also has to take care of the daily chores, stay home from school to watch her little sister Berkeley while her mother works, teach Berkeley (and herself) the skills they miss when they're not in daycare and school, and keep up with writing to her father — even if he's never written back. Olivia thinks of everything... except herself. What she hasn't realized yet is that there are a lot of people who want to look out for her too. Maybe the family you need sometimes is the family you never realized you had all around you.

Stay
New!

Stay
New!

Written by: Bobbie Pyron
Recommended Age: 9 - 13

Piper's life is turned upside down when her family moves into a shelter in a whole new city. She misses her house, her friends, and her privacy — and she hates being labeled the homeless girl at her new school. But the shelter also brings new friendships with other girls in the shelter's Firefly Girls troop and with a sweet street dog owned by an elderly homeless woman named Jewel, who refuses to move into the shelter because she can't bring her beloved Baby. After Jewel is hospitalized and Baby is sent to an animal shelter, Piper decides to rally her new Firefly friends and figure out a way to make sure that Jewel and Baby can stay together and move off the streets for good. Told in alternating perspectives, this heartfelt story explores the many faces of homelessness while speaking to the importance of hope, the power of story, and the true meaning of home.

The Bridge Home

The Bridge Home

Written by: Padma Venkatraman
Recommended Age: 10 - 14

The streets of Chennai are dangerous for children, but when life gets more dangerous at home, sisters Viji and Rukku become runaways. Fortunately, before long the girls find shelter under and abandoned bridges, as well as friendship, both from a puppy they name Kutti and from two runaway boys, Muthi and Arul. Muthi and Arul are so taken with Viji's storytelling that they agree to teach her and Rukku how to scavenge the garbage dump for items to sell. And when tragedy strikes, their new family will help Viji come to terms with her grief. Written in the form of a letter from Viji to Rukku, this vividly emotional book gently explores issues around poverty, caste, and child labor through the story of one girl.

The War That Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life

Recommended Age: 10 and up

10-year-old Ada has never left her family's one-bedroom apartment; her abusive mother considers her clubbed foot a humiliation and has kept her from public view her entire life. But when Ada’s little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the dangers of World War II, Ada takes the greatest risk of her life and sneaks out to join him. Susan Smith, the recluse who’s forced to take the siblings in, doesn’t know anything about children — especially girls who flinch at every mistake. But as the pair grow closer, perhaps Ada has finally found someone that she can trust to love her just as she is. This touching 2015 Newbery Honor novel is part adventure, part search for identity; fans of Ada will enjoy watching her continue to blossom in the sequel, The War I Finally Won.

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s

Written by: Holly Goldberg Sloan
Recommended Age: 10 and up

Willow is an eccentric genius of a child, but her accepting adoptive parents have always given her space to be whoever she is — even when she's talking about rare skin conditions or focusing on multiples of seven. In fact, her parents are pretty well the only people she engages with at all. But when they are killed in a car crash, Willow's life is turned upside down. She begins to fear that her only choice will be life in a group home, where her idiosyncrasies and brilliance will be considered disadvantages, not gifts. However, when her sort-of-friend Mai's mother takes Willow in, she begins to see a possibility of connecting to more people in the world. Readers will root for Willow as she finds her own way to journey through grief — and in the process, broadens her world and finds a new sort of family.

Be A Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters

Be A Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters

Written by: Laurie Ann Thompson
Recommended Age: 12 and up

When a teen has an idea for a way to change the world, she may not know what to do to make it a reality. This book will guide her through it, step by step! Individual chapters cover everything from refining your idea to fundraising to creating a business plan, and even discuss what to do when you're ready to move on, whether you're closing down your project or handing it off to another person. Changing the world may not be easy, but with this book, she'll know where to start.

UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World

Written by: Dr. Michele Borba

Studies show that teens are 40% less empathetic today than they were thirty years ago – a trend that hurts both kids and society as a whole. In fact, self-focused behavior can hurt academic performance, lead to increases in bullying behavior, and reduce kids’ resilience when things go wrong. This thoughtful parenting book explores nine research-based habits to build kids’ empathy. From identifying and controlling their emotions to thinking about "us" not "them", these strategies can be used daily to encourage kids to see the world from the perspectives of other people around them, reducing rudeness and bullying and setting them up for a lifetime of positive relationships.

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