OAK LAWN, Ill. --Tanisha Basham, 41, is alive thanks to an extraordinary organ donation. In the midst of a mother's grief, her friend donated her 18-year-old daughter's heart to save Basham's life.
Basham initially declined the generous gift from her dear friend Vicki Olds. But Olds insisted, making it a rare instance of a directed heart organ donation.
Now the two women have an even stronger bond, and are sharing their emotional story.
Olds says her daughter, 18-year old Domonique "Nikki" Smith, succeeded in everything she put her mind to. She earned straight A's, mastered chess and spoke foreign languages fluently.
She was also the best match for Basham, who needed a new heart.
"What better gift to give someone than to preserve life," Olds says.
For years, Olds' family members had been registered organ donors. When Nikki died unexpectedly in the summer of 2014 from an accidental drowning, she wanted some good to come out of the tragedy.
Basham, a family friend, was suffering from severe congestive heart failure. Doctors had implanted a heart pump while she was on the organ donor waiting list.
Basham had rushed to the hospital to see Nikki after the accident and when the teen died. She was whelmed when Olds told her she wanted to have Nikki's heart.
"She was upset when I told her that I made that decision," Olds says. "She felt guilty. I told her you're my sister. You're my first choice."
"Vicki came over to me and said, Tanisha, there's no one else that I would ever want to have her heart but you. Don't feel bad about this. Nikki would want you to have her heart," Basham says.
Testing determined Nikki's heart was a perfect match, and the transplant surgery took place at Advocate Christ Medical Center.
Soon after, Olds went with Basham for her first checkup.
"She was able to see her baby's heart and hear it for the first time inside of me," says Basham.
"To know that this is my baby living inside Tanisha, it was the most overwhelming thing a parent could ever experience," says Olds.
Basham says she feels great now and keeps a picture of Nikki on her phone to remind her who gave her a second chance at life.
"And I'm like, well Sweet Pea, we did it. Because of you, Tee Tee is gonna live on," Olds says.
Nikki's mother donated a total of five of her organs: her heart, livers both lungs and both kidneys. She directed one kidney to go to another family friend.
Her focus now is keeping her daughter's legacy alive by starting a non-profit performing arts organization called A Smile for Nikki.