On the anniversary of the accident that killed her teenage son, a Canadian mom spent the day championing the cause of heart disease awareness with the man whose life was saved with her child’s heart.
On May 31, 2012, Kim LeBlanc of Guelph, Ontario received the phone call that is every parent's worst nightmare. Her son, 15-year-old Tyler Schwering, had suffered life-threatening injuries in a road accident.
As LeBlanc later described to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the teen had been listening to his headphones and lost in “a world of his own” when he stepped off a curb without looking and got hit by a tractor trailer.
Doctors did all they could to save Schwering’s life, but 48 hours passed and the teen showed no signs of brain activity. The family prepared to say their goodbyes.
They just had one decision to make.
According to CBC, a representative from the Trillium Gift of Life Network, an organization that facilitates organ transplants, approached the family to ask if they wanted to donate Schwering’s organs.
Doing so was not something that the family had ever thought about, but when faced with the choice, LeBlanc says the decision was a “no-brainer.” The teen’s heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and eyes were all donated.
"Knowing the kind of person [Tyler] was, I know this is something he would have wanted," his mom told the Hamilton Spectator.
Within a few hours of Schwering's death, his heart was transplanted into Dave Allingham, a 40-year-old dad of three.
Allingham suffered from a genetic heart disease that left him bedridden. Doctors told Allingham that he’d only live for another 30 days if he didn’t get a new heart.
"My whole future was in the hands of a perfect stranger," Allingham told the Spectator about that trying time. "I can honestly say to this day it was the lowest day of my life. I never thought I'd be looking my kids in the eye and possibly saying goodbye."
Thanks to Schwering and his family, however, Allingham didn’t have to do so.
Today, he is healthy and active and a dedicated advocate for organ donation. He’s also a fundraiser for Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“I can't tell you how many times a day I said this over and over to myself, 'If there is some family out there that is going to give me that unconditional gift of love, I would spend the rest of my life giving back.' I never forgot that promise,” he told the Spectator.
On the third anniversary of Schwering’s accident, Allingham cycled -- for the third time -- in the annual Becel Heart & Stroke Ride for Heart in Toronto, an event that raises money to battle heart disease.
This year, however, a special group of people joined him at the event: Schwering’s family, including his mom.
LeBlanc tweeted a photograph of her and Allingham at the event.
"To have Kim and her family participate, that was priceless,'' Allingham told TODAY.com. "It's Tyler's legacy that lives on. This man is my hero. I've gotten to know who he was and what he stood for, and I know this heart is full of love."
This wasn’t the first time that Allingham had met Schwering’s family. In fact, the two families have become close over the years.
As CBC notes, it’s unusual for donor families and recipients in Ontario to ever meet due to strict privacy laws. But in this case, the two sides were connected serendipitously after a friend of Allingham’s connected the dots between the families, and introduced them.
Allingham first met Schwering’s mom in September 2013 at a restaurant in Guelph.
"He just stood there and I knew immediately that it was him,'' LeBlanc told TODAY.com. "We both started to cry, and we hugged. It was unbelievable."
LeBlanc, who is also an advocate for organ donation, typically goes out of town with her family to remember the day of Schwering’s accident. This year, however, they decided to join Allingham in the ride for charity.
“It was my first time and a bittersweet day, but the ride itself was great and the emotions were very strong and powerful,” she told the Toronto Sun. “It’s a very good feeling knowing we were able to take a tragedy and to have something good come from it, so that really meant a lot.”