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The families agreed to meet on March 9, the anniversary of Amanda’s death. Like Ronald Pierce, Garrett was nervous as he arrived at the park. The feeling didn’t last long.

When they met, Garrett’s mother, without a word, gave Jessica Pierce a warm hug.

“Five minutes after meeting them I remember thinking my family is about to expand,” Garrett said. “It’s a pretty incredible feeling.”

That day, the families talked for hours. The Pierces told Garrett and his mother everything they could about Amanda. The Leopolds told about the months Garrett had waited at the hospital for a donor.

Pierce was drawn back to years past at Kate Jackson Park, where he used to take his daughters to play when they were growing up on Davis Islands.

“He’s a good kid,” said Pierce, 60, who lives in St. Petersburg and is an optometrist at a Pearle Vision office in Brandon. “I consider him my son now.”

“When you get a tragedy like this, you’ve got to look at the positives,” he said. “The way things went down, things happen for a reason.”


In his optometry office, Pierce’s walls are filled with music memorabilia, including autographs, album covers and photos from the rock bands Yes, Moody Blues and Boston. A wooden desk that belonged to Amanda sits against an office wall.

He first reached out to Garrett on Christmas Eve, sending him a message and an autographed photo of Slash, the rocker most noted for his time as lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses. Garrett, who plays guitar, is a fan of Slash.

Pierce wants to take Garrett to his first rock show, maybe this summer when Slash will be touring with Aerosmith. A pilot, he would like to take Garrett flying. He can see the two of them catching a Lightning game or watching the Rays.

“There’s a connection with him,” Pierce said. “Part of my daughter is living on right now.”

The rest of the Pierce family wants to keep the connection with Garrett going, too.

“We are seeing the good coming out of it, too,” said Jessica Pierce, 20, a junior at Florida State University. “This boy wouldn’t be alive today if he hadn’t gotten the heart when he did. We don’t take that lightly.”

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