ADRIAN, Mich. — Christmastime of 2019, WTOL 11 introduced you to Gabe Villanueva. He had to stay attached to a machine that kept his heart pumping
As a teen he had already suffered multiple heart attacks and a life-threatening clot.
He needed a new heart to survive.
He was given his gift of life on Jan. 27, 2020, and we were there when he came home five weeks later.
Now, a year out, he's almost unrecognizable.
"So much has changed in my life as far as strength, my state of mind, my limitations," Villanueva said.
Simple tasks are not taken for granted by Gabe or his mother. It's the little things like being able to hop in the shower, to the bigger things like buying and being able to drive his own car.
"To have him away from us and out of our sight was a little uneasy at first, but we've adjusted and now it's amazing," Gabe's mom Lindsey McMordie said.
When you walk into their home today, it looks like Valentine's Day with a tree full of red hearts in the front room.
"I was just reading all the notes people had wrote on the hearts for me, you know, it just showed me I had a lot of support in the journey and I was never alone," Villanueva said.
The tree sat in their window for the years that Gabe waited for his transplant and this year, begins a new tradition.
It's put up on the date of his gift of life and stays for one month with a few new additions, one reading, "answer to prayer 1/27/2020."