Biker rode 1,426 miles to meet the family of his organ donor

By Jack Owens May 4, 2021
When 32-year-old Navy flight surgeon James Mazzuchelli was fatally wounded during a training exercise in 2018, his mother watched as her son’s heart was carried away to save the life of a stranger. One year later, that stranger biked 1,426 miles to meet the family of his organ donor.

On February 21, 2018, Christine Mazzuchelli got the call that her son had been in a training accident, and that if she wanted to see him alive one last time, she would have to get on the first flight from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Diego.

While James was still breathing with the help of a machine when she arrived with his stepfather, it was clear that his condition was critical, and that they had a difficult choice to make. They decided to begin the organ donation process, which, unbeknownst to them at the time, would allow a man to return to work, a veteran to regain his health, and a cyclist named Mike Cohen to get back behind the wheel.

 In 2004, when Cohen was just 18, he was diagnosed with Leukemia, and the treatment process caused lasting damage to his heart. He beat cancer two years after his diagnosis but his heart was quietly beginning to give up on him. In 2017, he was finally rushed to the hospital with chest pains, where they found golf-ball sized clot in his left ventricle. He would need a heart transplant.

Around the same time, Christine Mazzuchelli wrote a letter to each of the four recipients of her son’s organs, detailing the selflessness of James and his “go big or go home” mentality. Mike quickly realized how special his new heart was, and as soon as he got out of rehab, he began planning a bike trip across the country to Jacksonville, where James is buried.

As opposed to the last one, this 1,426-mile cross-country bike ride was closely monitored by Mike’s doctor who made sure that his heart-rate remained below 150 beats per minute. On November 20, 2019, Mike pedaled the last 12 miles of his ride, slowly approaching the cemetery to meet Christine and James’ step-dad.

He rode up to the couple, unclipped from his bike, and found that only a quiet “Hi” could escape from his lips. He fell into a deep embrace with Christine as the tears began to flow, and Mike silently expressed his gratefulness to James.

Someone brought out a stethoscope, and Christine was given another chance to listen to her son’s heart. The heart of a hero.