Running The Boston Marathon: For Two Children And One Heart

By Lisa Hughes and Jackie Connally, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – More than 25,000 runners will make the journey from Hopkinton to Boston next week in the 115th Boston Marathon. 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.

More from Lisa Hughes
  • Sue

    What a beautiful story…thank you for sharing it! : )

  • swim69

    Oh my goodness I just bawled my eyes out… what a touching story, and how wonderful that these two families have become so close. Such beautiful children in the pictures – both of them so beautiful. Thank you for a touching story – and good luck in the marathon on Monday!

  • Aunt Lisa

    Dalton’s cousins in Texas (Sam, Grace and Matthew) love Dalton so much. A couple of weeks ago we met and played with Avery. Seeing the life of Dalton poured into her vibrant, joyful body and spirit brought a blend of tender, unspeakable joy, divine miracle and light encircling around us. Who would have dreamed this in Aug 2009 when tragedy hit.
    We will be cheering you on all the way Mike. Avery, you are such a strong little girl. Thank you for receiving Dalton’s heart with such gratitude and grace. Mike and Cheryl, you are amazing friends to my brother and sister-in-law and the triplets. Your bond of friendship is a tremendous gift. Thank you, thank you…

  • Run a Marathon

    Your most comprehensive and up to date source of information on Marathons, Half Marathons and other 5K, 10K road running events in India in 2011. This calendar of running events in India is the most comprehensive and is always up to date with any news and happenings, whether it is running in the big metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai or Hyderabad or you are looking for events in the smaller cities and towns across the country.

  • Curious About ‘BZ Marathoners « CBS Boston

    […] Web Producer Mike Toole is running his first Boston (but his 3rd marathon) to raise money for Children’s Hospital Boston.  Mike’s daughter, Avery, has been a patient there since birth.  Avery recently received a heart transplant at Children’s at age 6.  You can see a very touching story about Avery and her family here. […]

  • Tammy Auger

    Absolutely Beautiful story, I lost my daughter at 9months old, 2nd heart surgery. I wish Avery and her family the best, and lots of laughs, hugs, and forever happiness. As for Daltons, you are brave and forever your son is apart of the breathing and I hope you take strength in knowing he is forever your boy, smiling upon both family’s, I was never offered to donate my baby girl, now I wonder why, but would of giving another life, and Yes 15 yrs later I still miss her so. Best wishes for great joy with in life.

  • Jim Kane

    Mike, this is a wonderful thing you are doing in Memory of Dalton & to honor your daughter & her hospital transplant team. I know what your family is going through, I received a Heart Transplant 19 years ago @ MGH & met my 16 year old donor’s family 17 years ago. Have a great run, & God Bless Donor’s & their families.

  • Gina Masters

    I used to work with Dalton’s father in Idaho before they moved to College Station, Texas and I remember Dalton and also the tripliets (they were just babies when they moved away). When we read this article at work I could not stop crying and tonight I read it again to my fiance’ and I was crying so hard it was tough to get through it. The Lawyer’s are wonderful people and I cannot imagine what life must be like without their beautiful Dalton but he lives on in Avery and that is such a wonderful thing. I am so happy for the Toole family that Avery could be saved by the giving of Dalton’s heart. I work in surgery and I can truly appreciate the miracle that they can give life to someone when another life is lost. My heart aches for the Lawyer family yet it finds comfort in knowing that because of the unselfish acts of giving Dalton’s heart to a very special little girl…that Dalton lives on through her. Mike…I admire you for running this marathon for the two of them. I wish you the very best and your family as well. For the Lawyers…we miss you here in Idaho and hope that one day we will see you again and my thoughts and prayers are with you all.

  • WBZ Team Finishes The 115th Boston Marathon « WBZ Team Finishes The 115th Boston Marathon « CBS Boston

    […] Mike finished with a time of 4:13:49. Mike ran on behalf of Children’s Hospital, who completed a heart transplant on his daughter Avery in 2009. As seen earlier on WBZ-TV, Avery is doing great. […]

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