ICU nurse adopts 27-year-old man with autism to get him a life-saving heart transplant

Posted: Updated:
Courtesy of Piedmont Healthcare Courtesy of Piedmont Healthcare
(ABC) -

One ICU nurse has redefined the term caretaker and changed a young man's life, a hospital staff's perspective and her own family in the process.

Lori Wood first met Jonathan Pinkard when she cared for him in the emergency room at Piedmont Newnan Hospital, but once she found out he had no family or support system to help him get the medical care he needed, she stepped up as more than a patient, but as a parent.

"If it really wasn't for her than I wouldn't be the person that I am today," Pinkard said in a video created by the hospital that was shared on its Facebook page.

(MORE: Family meets recipient of relative's heart by chance at baseball game )

Pinkard, who is high functioning autistic, said he lived with his grandmother until she died in 2012 and his mother was in a rehab facility, so when he got sick last August he had no one to turn to.

PHOTO: Piedmont Newnan Hospital posted video on Facebook announcing an award for ICU nurse Lori Wood after she adopted a 27-year-old man with autism so he could have heart surgery.

A physician told Pinkard he needed a heart transplant after his abrupt health issue, but they would not keep him on the transplant list, "because he had no support system, nobody that was willing to take care of him and no family support," Wood explained.

Wood said it "gnawed" at her after caring from him for two days straight and seeing him without any support.

"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 said.

"I think at some point God places people and situations in your life and you have a choice to do something about it," Wood said. "For me with this situation there was no choice. 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."

Mike Robertson, CEO of Piedmont Newnan, said in the video that he was shocked when he first heard Wood's story and her decision to adopt Pinkard to help get the life-saving care he needed.

"Most caregivers have big hearts, but I have not seen any nearly as close to Lori. Besides needing the heart, he needed caregivers, he needed that support," Robertson said.

"Lori became that guardian and officially adopted him in order for him to get on the list," he continued. "She knew what it meant for him to not have this heart and she put herself aside to take care of Jonathan and become that guardian."

Another staff nurse at the hospital, Kerri Hamilton, said she nominated Wood for the hospital's 360 President's Award which recognizes "deserving employees who go above and beyond for patients, visitors or their co-workers," according to the hospital.

"She's uprooted everything to do this, to take care of him. To me it was above and beyond anything and she deserves to be recognized for it," Hamilton said. "If I could just be half the nurse that she is and to have the compassion that she has, then I will have done a good job."

Pinkard said candidly, "It's kind of emotional, but at the same time this has been a life journey for me."

Robertson hailed Wood for everything she has done and represents.

PHOTO: Piedmont Newnan Hospital posted video on Facebook announcing an award for ICU nurse Lori Wood after she adopted a 27-year-old man with autism so he could have heart surgery.

"Here was a gentleman that needed hope that needed someone to believe in, someone to help take care of and what better type of person than Lori is as a nurse and just as a loving, caring individual. She's given him a brand new life."

The video went on to thank her for compassion, care and commitment that has lifted up everyone who knows her story.

"You've given Jonathan a new life, a new heart, a new family. Because of you and what you've done it makes all of us want to be a better person, a better care giver," Robertson said. "So thank you for leading the way and being that positive example."

Pinkard thanked Wood for the incredible life-giving gift and for his newfound family.

"Miss Lori has been awesome. She's very loveable to me, and not only me but to her son as well," he said. "They really treat me like family, I'm really thankful."

Nicole Dillon, senior communications specialist for the hospital, told ABC News that Pinkard has been at home recovering and has adjusted to life in the Wood family nicely.

Wood spends her days off from the hospital with him, takes him to follow up appointments and the family has bonded over watching football and "Family Feud."

Check out these photos from across KAKEland snapped by our viewers, staff and local officials. Do you have pictures to share with us? Email them to news@kake.com.

MORE SLIDESHOWS HERE