- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - March 9, the first anniversary of his daughter’s death, and Ronald Pierce was anxious.

He was finally going to meet Garrett Leopold, a skinny, dark-haired 17-year-old who lived in the small Polk County town of Mulberry. Pierce had reached out by text, but the two had never met face to face. Pierce wasn’t sure what he would say or how he should act. He had sent the teen a text weeks earlier: “You are part of our family now.”

They met that afternoon at South Tampa’s Kate Jackson Park. Pierce brought photo albums with him.

The pictures chronicled the life of his daughter Amanda, who was 18 when she died in a crash as she was driving to Florida State University in Tallahassee to see her sister. Pretty and smart, Amanda had hoped to attend FSU herself.

Leopold brought something of his own. A stethoscope.

In case they wanted to listen to her heart.

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Amanda was a popular senior at Plant High School, where she was involved in the school’s chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that pairs students with special-needs children. She also worked with children at after-school programs with the YMCA and St. John’s Episcopal School.

She wanted to study special education and was planning to begin her college career at Tallahassee Community College and then transfer to Florida State University.

“That was her passion - working with kids,” said Pierce, who set up a college scholarship in her name at Plant High for a student pursuing a degree in special education.

On March 8, Amanda was driving to Tallahassee when she swerved to avoid traffic backed up because of two previous accidents on the interstate, and her car struck a tree. A friend who was with her was injured but survived the crash.

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Garrett’s problems began in the womb.

His heart wasn’t fully developed when he was born. Doctors didn’t know if he would survive. He had his first heart transplant at 3 months old.

Over time, more problems developed. He suffered from coronary artery disease; doctors told him he would have to have another heart transplant.

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