Georgia nurse adopts man with autism so he could undergo heart transplant: 'I had to help him'

A Georgia man was given a second chance at life — literally — after a nurse offered to become his legal guardian in order for him to receive a new heart.

Jonathan Pinkard, 27, who has high-functioning autism, collapsed at work in August 2018 and was subsequently rushed to the hospital. He was informed he required a heart transplant but was not eligible for one because he had no “support system” to care for him, according to video from Piedmont Healthcare.

In the video, Pinkard said he was raised by his grandmother. But following her death in 2012, he had no other family to rely on. His mother lives in a rehab facility, he said.

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By December, Pinkard was still hospitalized. It was around that same time that Lori Wood, an intensive care unit nurse at Piedmont Newnan Hospital in Georgia, which is part of Piedmont Healthcare, was assigned to his case.

“As a nurse, it was frustrating. The patient needs something but they can’t have it,” Wood said in the video.

After two days of caring for Pinkard, Wood, 57, said she had a “gnawing” feeling that she needed to do something to help her patient.

“I think at some point God places people [and] situations in your life and you have a choice to do something about it. I guess for me there was no choice — I had a room, I was a nurse, I could take care of him,” she said. “It was just something that had to happen; he had to come home with me.”

“I had to help him. It was a no-brainer. He would have died without the transplant,” she told TODAY. 

And so Wood became the caregiver Pinkard so required.

“When I first heard Lori’s story, I was shocked. Lori became that guardian and officially adopted him in order for him to get on the list,” said Piedmont Healthcare CEO Mike Roberston in the video.

“She has changed a life; she’s given him a brand new life,” he added. “It makes all of us want to be a better person, a better caregiver.”

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Pinkard then moved in with Lori, a single mom. In August, he underwent a heart transplant. Wood is now helping him learn how to live independently, and the 27-year-old plans to return to work in December, according to TODAY.

“She treats me like family. I am very thankful,” Pinkard said in the video. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn't be the person I am today.”

To formally recognize her kind actions, Wood was the recipient of this year's President's Award, offered as part of the hospital's employee recognition program.