(AL.com) These days, Davis Boswell of Auburn is a rosy-cheeked nine-month old with a head full of baby-fine hair.
But not that long ago, he was a boy living on borrowed time – tethered to lifesaving technology through a device called a Berlin heart that helped pump blood. Davis was the youngest patient in the United States to use a Berlin heart when doctors implanted it, said his mother, Amanda Boswell. He was less than three weeks old.
The device is used to stabilize children as they await a transplant, and Davis used it for more than four months as he and his family waited at Children’s of Alabama in Birmingham. An infection caused him to go into heart failure shortly after his birth.
“We never prayed for a heart,” Amanda Boswell said. “Because we knew that praying for a heart was praying for something tragic to happen to a baby.”
As the Boswells’ vigil entered its fourth month, something tragic did happen to a baby living hundreds of miles away in Monroe, La. John Clarke Perry, a six-month-old, began to run a mysterious fever, and doctors discovered bleeding on the brain.
Nurses at the hospital papered his room with Bible verses, and his parents prayed for a miracle.
During surgery to stop the bleeding, doctors discovered major malformations in the blood vessels around the brain that couldn’t be repaired. John Clarke’s parents, Jonathan and Holley, had one more decision to make before they removed their son from life support – whether or not to donate his organs.
Holley Perry said yes, and she pushed the transplant team to find a place for his heart. At first, team members weren’t sure they could find a baby close enough to receive the heart, but then they found Davis Boswell and rushed the organ to Birmingham.
Davis Boswell survived the surgery in late November and thrived, leaving the hospital in January – almost six months after he arrived.
On Tuesday night for the first time, the Boswell and Perry families met in Alabama, the night before a ceremony at East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika honoring organ donation.
“It’s not a situation you ever plan to be in,” Jonathan Perry said. “It’s hard to know what to say.”
Although Holley Perry and Amanda Boswell texted and sent messages over Facebook, meeting in person still made them nervous.
“I’ll admit, there were butterflies,” Amanda Boswell said. “It’s a meeting no parent can prepare for.”
The families talked about Davis Boswell, and how he was doing. They also have older children about the same age. John Clarke’s twin, Ella, is almost the same age as Davis.
“On both ends, there’s no rulebook, there’s nobody who can give you advice,” Amanda Boswell said.
Holley Perry agreed. She sought out the Boswell family after she learned that Davis might have received John Clarke’s heart.
“You don’t want anything to come off the wrong way,” Holley Perry said.
The Boswells are extremely grateful to the Perry family, but struggle with survivor’s guilt.
“We certainly want them to feel comfortable,” Amanda Boswell said. “It’s a lot easier for us because Davis is still here.”
The Perrys have also struggled to figure out the boundaries that define this new relationship. They want to know how Davis is doing and how his heart is holding up – but they don’t want to intrude.
“We don’t want them thinking we think that’s our son,” Jonathan Perry said.
Amanda Boswell said she can understand better than most the pain of losing a child, because Davis came so close to death when he was at the hospital. And the Perrys believe their son touched many souls in his short life – not just the Boswells.
“God didn’t take our son so Davis could live,” Jonathan Perry said. “He has brought many people closer to the Lord.”
One of Jonathan Perry’s fondest memories of John Clarke is watching football with his infant son before he got sick. If the family needed John Clarke to smile for a photograph, they would turn on a game, he said.
“I could watch LSU and the Saints, and he would just sit there on my knee,” Jonathan Perry said. “He could watch football forever.”
The Boswells cheer for Auburn, but at the ceremony, the Perrys gave Davis a shirt that said, “My heart bleeds purple and gold.”
Compared to his twin sister, John Clarke was the easy one, a happy baby who rarely fussed, Holley Perry said.
Both families have leaned heavily on faith and prayer since their babies fell ill, and say the experience has brought them closer to God.
“The world is not a fair place and bad things are going to happen to good people,” Jonathan Perry said. “There are a lot of people who are going to think this is a horrible thing, and it was. But there’s already good coming from it. If one person prayed for our son who never prayed before, then John Clarke brought someone closer to the Lord.”