BOSTON (CBS) – More than 25,000 runners will make the journey from Hopkinton to Boston next week in the 115th Boston Marathon.
CBSBoston.com senior web producer Mike Toole is one of them. His own family’s journey inspired him to run for Children’s Hospital Boston, for his daughter Avery, and for a very special boy they never met.
WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes reports.
To see Avery Toole run and laugh like any other six-year-old is nothing short of a miracle to her parents.
When she was just 18 hours old, the doctors at Children’s told the Tooles that Avery’s heart was so underdeveloped that it couldn’t pump enough blood to keep her alive.
“When she was five days old, they brought her to the operating room for what would be the first of nine open heart surgeries,” Mike said.
Just two months after what they hoped was the final operation to repair her heart, four-year old Avery went into cardiac arrest. A transplant was her only hope.
An artificial heart – called a Berlin Heart – sat on her belly, connected by tubes to Avery’s own heart, keeping her alive while she waited for a new heart.
“Avery was priority 1A, which meant she was basically slowly dying and needed a heart immediately,” Avery’s mom Cheryl told WBZ-TV.
“That was the first time we really thought we may lose her.”
After 52 agonizing days, Cheryl was sleeping next to Avery’s bed when the call came in the middle of the night.
“(Avery’s cardiologist) said we found it… I didn’t say anything… She said we found the perfect heart,” Cheryl remembered.
“The sensation that I had was to run out the door and go to the hospital… Avery has a heart,” Mike said.
“It was like she was born all over again.”
But mixed with their joy over this gift, they also felt another family’s loss.
“Something awful has happened somewhere else for this to happen. It puts the brakes on it,” said Mike.
“You immediately know what you’re being saved from is something that some other family is going through,” Cheryl said.
Eight-year old Dalton Lawyer of College Station, Texas was riding his bike when a pickup truck hit and killed him. His heart gave Avery new life.
“The first thing we noticed (immediately after the transplant) was that her lips were bright pink. They’d never been that way before,” Mike remembered.
“When we saw that, we knew something really fantastic just happened.”
As Avery grew stronger, her parents reached out to Dalton’s family.
“You just have this enormous sense to somehow need to thank this family — whoever they are. It became a huge driving force for us,” Cheryl said.
It’s not unusual for such appeals to go unanswered.
But the week before Thanksgiving of 2009, the Tooles received an email from Dalton’s family.
And then on Christmas Day, a phone call. And last summer, the two families met for the first time.
“It was beyond fine… It was incredible,” Mike said. “It was kind of like finding new family for the first time.”
And just like that, three boys – triplets who’d lost their big brother when Dalton died – now became big brothers to Avery.
“The kids were inseparable,” Mike recalled about that first meeting of the families.
“It was instant…. No awkwardness, no shyness,” Cheryl said. “There was an immediate protective sense of them for their new sister.
“The four of them — the couch will be empty — but they’ll all sit on top of each other in a chair watching a movie. Typical siblings.”
And for that gift, the 26.2 mile run seems a small gesture for her dad to make.
“We owe so much to Children’s for what they’ve done, for what the Lawyers have done… and to pay tribute to Dalton and Avery. What better way to do it?”
If you’d like to contribute to the Children’s Hospital Boston Marathon Fund, click here.