Jenny and Rob Burns tell PEOPLE exclusively they have found "family for life" in the boys who received their late son Beau's organs
Jenny Burns lived every parent's worst nightmare when she realized her 14-month-old son Beau was missing in June 2022.
“When I couldn’t find him — I searched for a good three minutes — I knew he was in the pool. You just start hoping and praying,” Jenny, 37, tells PEOPLE.
Jenny's fears were confirmed when she found Beau in the backyard pool of her Dallas, Texas home. The mom of two screamed for her husband Rob, 39, who pulled their unconscious son out of the water and began performing CPR.
“I was praying a miracle would happen. God was there with me,” Jenny says, recalling the devastating moment. “Rob was able to get his heartbeat back by the time the ambulance came and they airlifted him to Children’s Medical Center Dallas.”
It was “the longest” seven days for the husband and wife and their 10-year-old daughter Emma as the family awaited Beau’s fate. “I thought for a good four days that there was hope that he would survive,” says Jenny. “But on the fourth day, the doctor told us he was not coming back and we had to decide what we would like to do.”
It was then that Jenny and Rob were first introduced to the idea of child organ donation and made the decision that went on to save the lives of three people.
“My mom and my grandmother were both nurse practitioners, so I grew up in a household that was very focused on medical education and understanding the importance of decisions you make,” Rob tells PEOPLE. “And while it was a very tough day for us, I knew that someone was going to get that miracle phone call, so for me, it was a no-brainer.”
Jenny adds, “It was a leap of faith. You really had to trust that the decision you're making is for the best, and it's so hard at that moment. You don’t know what it will be like knowing that you’re saving lives.”
What the devastated parents didn’t know at that moment was that in a different wing of the hospital, a 4-month-old boy was fighting for his life. “I prayed hard for the family that was losing their significant other, their child. I didn't know where it was coming from,” April Flores tells PEOPLE about the heart her son Eli, now almost 2 years old, received that day from Beau.
Doctors had told Flores, 32, that Eli, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, would succumb "any day now" to the birth defect. “The night we found out, before bed, I prayed for a heart for Eli because he has a whole life to live,” she says. “At 3:47 a.m. I got the call from our heart transplant team… after the transplant, it was an instantly different Eli. There was so much joy I could see through his face.”
A year later, Jenny and Rob reached out to Flores in hopes of meeting Eli. And at the end of October, that dream became reality. “That first initial meeting, looking into Eli’s mom’s eyes and just seeing how grateful she was and then knowing that Eli’s living so well because of our decision… it was just overwhelming,” says Jenny. “Rob and I like to say it was Beau’s gift, but now it’s Eli’s heart. The heartbeat was so strong and so fast — a little boy’s heartbeat.”
For Flores, meeting the Burns family came with a lot of fear. “I’m a single mother. What if they wanted their son’s heart to go to a family with a mother and a father? Is my son good enough for them to have received their son’s heart?” Flores recalls of her emotions.
But very quickly after meeting, those fears disappeared. “It was just an instant connection," says Flores. "It is hard to put into words what they have done giving my son a chance at life, but we are connected forever.”
At the same time that they reached out to Flores in October, Jenny and Rob reached out to the 40-year-old woman who received Beau’s kidney, and the mother of 4-year-old Leonel who received their son’s liver.
While they are still waiting and hopeful for a response from the kidney recipient, the Burns family met Leonel and his mother, Ginamarie Rodriguez, in November.
“Leonel was born with Citrullinemia Type 1, which can lead to a coma, brain damage or death,” Rodriguez, 29, tells PEOPLE. “There is no cure, and the transplant was the only way out.” Meeting the Burns family at the Southwest Transplant Alliance was “very emotional” for Rodriguez, whose husband Randy, 35, is currently deployed.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but it felt like family," says Rodriguez. "Going through everything we both went through, we’re all grieving. I’ll be forever thankful to them.”
Jenny adds, “Leonel is so beautiful. He's just this rambunctious little 4 year old, and it was so good seeing him just laugh and live so loud.”
Over the last few months, Jenny has come to see everyone as part of her extended family. “I don’t know what it is with these women, but we have this amazing bond," says Jenny. "Both Ginamarie and April are going to be in our lives forever, and I get two more sons."
Six months after Beau's accident, Jenny and Rob also learned they were expecting another baby. “In January 2023, we found out we were pregnant with our son Jack," says Jenny. “It was the best surprise, and when we found out it was a boy, we knew Beau had a hand in picking him. He knew we needed this. God knew we needed this.”
Born in October 2023, Jack "brings us so much joy, and Emma, his 10-year-old sister, just got back into the big sister role again," she adds. "We are so grateful.”
Along with her “sisters for life,” Flores and Rodriguez, who are also advocates for child organ donation, Jenny says her new “purpose in life” is to share the importance of her family's choice.
“Without my husband, I probably would have said no. [I felt like] they were taking away properly saying goodbye to my son, but Rob saw the bigger picture, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life," she says.
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Seeing Beau's legacy live on in two other young boys has also helped her find peace after losing her son.
“There are two little boys and a 40-year-old woman alive because of Beau, and I get to create relationships with them and I get to see them thrive," says Jenny. "Beau was gone and there wasn’t anything I could do about it, but I could do this and help somebody else [and] help another mom with their little boy. Getting to see them grow up and see their mom’s love on them heals my heart.”
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