Omaha woman’s death unites two families

Nicollena, 33, was an organ donor; now Richard Arce from Florida has her heart, and this week, he brought her family some additional peace.
Nicollena Cabello Hartzell passed away suddenly in 2018 but her heart continues to bring life to others. (Source: WOWT)
Published: Apr. 20, 2022 at 6:17 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The death of an Omaha-metro area woman four years ago is bringing two families that live hundreds of miles apart together.

A man from South Florida made his way to Omaha to meet his new family Wednesday and to somehow thank them for the opportunity to just be here.

A handshake, a hug, and once again Brian Cabello is close to his daughter’s heart.

“Thank you so much, man, we love you, man.”

Brian and his wife Sandra watched their daughter, Nicollena, grow up, graduate, and join the Army. When she came home, she passed away much too early: She was only 33 years old.

Nicollena was an organ donor; now Richard Arce has her heart.

“Does ‘thank you’ really mean anything? It does. Is there a better word? There’s not. The fact of the matter is, we met — finally. I think that that is the thank you, the gift,” Arce said.

Sandra is thankful for this meeting. She misses her daughter. She talked to her every day, but with this meeting, she was able to hear from her daughter again: Nicolenna’s heartbeat coming from inside Richard’s chest.

“Just like having her here, having her here next to us.”

About four years ago, Sandra shared her daughter’s story and told 6 News how Nicollena cherished a blanket made by her grandmother. Through the years, the blanket became worn and tattered.

Quiltmaster Connie Rose stepped in and using pieces of the old blanket; she was able to save the precious memory. Sandra is proud of the repaired memory.

Richard brought her daughter’s heartbeat home so Nicollena can be close to her blanket once again. He also brought a gift: a heart-shaped crystal.

“It says, ‘The beat goes on. Grateful and thankful for the gift of life. Richard and Nicollena. I got my heart on 4/22/2018 at 3:30 p.m.’ ”

Richard had heart problems as a child and outlived the doctor’s expectations. Nicollena’s gift helps him continue to beat the odds.

“Two families are going to be united as a family, you know,” he said. “I’m just so grateful. If it wasn’t for their daughter, I wouldn’t even be here today.”

Brian has waited for a long time to hear from his daughter again. Now her heartbeat is bringing new life to the family she left behind.

“Thank you, man. Welcome to our family.”

“Thank you. Welcome to mine.”

The Cabello family will have a flag presentation on Saturday to present their daughter’s burial flag to Richard at the VFW hall in Blair.

Copyright 2022 WOWT. All rights reserved.