It took Alicia Erchul a few years to prepare herself for a meeting with the little girl who received her murdered son's heart.
Gabriel was only 4 months old when her then-husband murdered their baby son while she was at work. The stunned Florida mother gave permission for her infant's organs to be donated. In Birmingham, Alabama, a little girl, born one week after Gabriel, was hooked to machines in a hospital bed, needing a new heart.
And so Morgan Price received Gabriel's tiny heart, and it has lived inside her ever since. She is now a healthy 4-year-old girl.
And in recent weeks, Alicia Erchul's own heart was healed to the point where she could meet Morgan, and did so at a gathering of both families at Disney World.
When Alicia and her 6-year-old son, Aidan, arrived at Morgan's vacation home, the little girl "was right there to give me a hug," Alicia told InsideEdition.com Thursday. "She wanted to show me right away where her 'zipper' was."
The zipper is what Morgan calls her torso-long scar from transplant surgery. "She said, 'This is where Gabriel's heart is,''' Alicia recounted.
And the mother nearly lost it right there. But, "I made sure to stay composed," Alicia said. "I wanted to tell her how happy I was that she was doing well."
Morgan offered to let Alicia listen to Gabriel's heart.
"It was really emotional," Alicia said. And it was emotion, of the debilitating grief variety, that kept Alicia from immediately responding to a thank you letter Morgan's family sent not long after the girl's surgery.
Alicia knew she wanted to respond, but not just yet. "It made me cry," she said. "I put it aside. I'm going to forever grieve Gabriel's loss, but those first few years were really difficult."
She doesn't like to recount the way Gabriel died. "I had been at work. I'm not sure what happened. I'm very lucky that Aidan is alive."
Donald Crystalus, the boys' father, was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years. He remains behind bars. He was babysitting both boys, he told investigators, when Gabriel vomited his breakfast and wouldn't stop crying. Eventually, the dad took Gabriel to the family's pediatrician.
"He had harmed Gabriel pretty severely," Alicia said, "causing traumatic brain injury." The infant died two days later.
Alicia said she doesn't know what made her husband snap. "We'd both been working split shifts," she said. "I didn't see any signs, but I only saw him for few minutes each day. We had two young children under the age of 2. It was really out of the blue and pretty shocking."
She donated Gabriel's liver and heart.
And the latter allowed Morgan to live.
It's nothing short of a miracle, Alicia said, that Morgan has reached the age of 4 — what with the body's natural tendency to reject foreign organs and the fact that Gabriel's heart was so tiny.
"She's just the sweetest little girl," Alicia said. "She has so much energy."
The mother decided late last year to finally respond to the letter from Morgan's family. Eventually, both families had sent a few letters and arranged a meeting at Disney World. Morgan's family came up from their Alabama home. Alicia and Aidan drove from their house in Jacksonville.
"Her family are very kind, thoughtful people and very welcoming," Alicia said. "We stay in touch. We do FaceTimes with Morgan on the weekends. We message on Facebook."
The single mother works as an administrator at the University of North Florida and is getting her master's degree. She is interested in post-traumatic stress disorder research and stress response in military veterans.
Meeting Morgan helped Alicia turn a corner in her grief and life.
"There's not such an overbearing shadow of darkness," she said. "Now I can use Gabriel's legacy to help others find hope and love."