‘He had to come home with me’: Nurse adopts man with autism so that he can get life-saving heart transplant

One Georgia nurse is being recognized for her exemplary kindness, compassion and caregiving after adopting a man with autism in order to help him qualify for a heart transplant — but to her, the decision to help didn’t require a second thought, it simply “had to happen.”

Lorinda (Lori) Wood, a staff registered nurse and post-anesthesia care unit nurse from Piedmont Newnan Hospital, was awarded the 2019 President’s Award — the culminating event of Piedmont’s Promise 360 employee recognition program that awards deserving employees who go above and beyond for patients, visitors or their co-workers.

For Wood, the actions that won her the award were a no-brainer.She first met Jonathan Pinkard after he came to the emergency room at Piedmont Newnan Hospital — Pinkard had collapsed at the end of one of his work shifts in August 2018.

Doctors told him he would need a heart transplant, but because Pinkard had no family or support system to care for him following the surgery, the medical staff could not keep him on the transplant list to await a donor heart.

“I was born and raised with my grandmother, and she passed away in 2012,” Pinkard explained. “My mother, she’s really in a rehab facility and she can’t do much.”

Because he had nowhere else to go, Pinkard was often discharged to a men’s shelter as he went in and out of the hospital in the following months, Today reported.

Wood was assigned to care for Pinkard in December 2018 and quickly felt a calling to help him.

“I think I was taking care of him for about two days, and you know, it just gnaws at you,” Wood said.

“When you’re a nurse and wanting to fix and help people — that can be very frustrating if you know a patient needs something and for whatever reason they can’t have it,” she added.

Recognizing the severity of Pinkard’s situation — that he would die if he did not get a heart transplant — Wood decided that she had to step up to the plate to help.

“I think at some point, God places people in situations in your life, and you have a choice to do something about it,” Wood said. “And I guess for me, with this situation, there was no choice. I mean, I had a room, I was a nurse, I could take care of him, so it really wasn’t anything that I struggled about. It was just something that had to happen — he had to come home with me.”

Wood officially adopted Pinkard and began caring for him as if he were her own son, taking him to doctor’s appointments and helping him stay on top of his mediation regimen.

In August of this year, Pinkard got the heart transplant that saved his life.

“I’m really thankful,” he said. “If it wasn’t for her, I would not be the person that I am today.”

Wood has inspired countless caregivers around her at Piedmont Newnan.“If I could just be half the nurse that she is, and to have the compassion that she does, then I will have done a good job,” said Kerri Hamilton, one of Wood’s fellow staff nurses at Piedmont Newnan.

“You’ve given Jonathan a new life, a new heart, a new family,” said Mike Robertson, CEO of Piedmont Newnan. “Because of you and what you’ve done, it makes all of us want to be a better person, a better caregiver, so thank you for leading the way and being that positive example.”

This story was reported from Los Angeles.