Two Tigers, One Heart

Auburn and LSU rarely have tender moments; anytime football is involved, there’s bound to be a disagreement.

But when newborn Davis Boswell contracted an enterovirus that critically weakened his heart, help from an unlikely place.

Davis, the second and youngest son of 2007 Auburn graduate Amanda Boswell and her husband Tucker, was put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) to help pump oxygen into his blood, but in its weakened state the heart didn’t survive more than a few days. An artificial heart would be required until better options came along.

The Boswell Family

At just 17 days old, Davis became the youngest recipient of a Berlin artificial heart in the world. The first stages were rough, but Davis tolerated the machine as best he could. The young family could enjoy a sense of normalcy, for a time, but they knew that the machine’s benefits could not last forever.

“Being on the heart transplant list is so hard,” Amanda said in an interview with East Alabama Living. “A new heart for your child is a very difficult thing to pray for because you know for child to receive the gift of life, another child must die. Someone else must lose a baby for you to live; it’s an impossible place to be. We never prayed specifically for a heart, we just prayed for Davis.”

Meanwhile, in Monroe, Louisiana, the infant John Clarke Perry passed in November 2015 after his own fight with a rare abnormal vessel malformation. His parents, LSU graduates Jonathan and Holley Perry, made the difficult decision to sign him up for organ donation with the hope that someone else could benefit.

“Holley was adamant about donating John Clarke’s organs,” Jonathan said in an interview with East Alabama Living. “And specifically, she wanted to donate his heart. The organ donation lady said ‘look, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: six-month-old babies don’t need hearts and with only a four-hour window from here to the new patient, it just doesn’t happen.’ But Holley is a little stubborn and she insisted they at least look. The organ donor representative came back and said there actually was an opportunity for [his heart] to be donated.”

Miles away, upon hearing there was a possible match, Davis Boswell’s doctors quickly flew to the Perry’s hospital in Louisiana, while still more stayed behind and prepped the infant for an immediate heart transplant.

After waiting 115 days, at exactly five months old Davis received John Clarke’s heart. There were complications at first, including another round with the ECMO, but after a month in the hospital the Boswells could finally leave the hospital in peace.

boswells-and-perrys

But the story didn’t end there. By sheer coincidence, after posting Davis’ recovery on Facebook, one of the Boswell’s relatives was a neighbor of the Perrys in Monroe, La. The two families were quickly connected and in April 2016 Holley and Jonathan traveled to Auburn to meet Amanda and Tucker and see the child their son had saved.

“It’s the kind of meeting no parents can really prepare for,” Amanda said. “There really wasn’t anybody to give you advice on what to say or how to act. Tucker and I had survivor’s guilt; it was a much easier meeting for us because we have the baby who lived, but we wanted Jonathan and Holley to feel comfortable with us and especially Davis.”

When LSU came to Auburn September 24, 2016, the Boswells and Perrys were invited to the field together before the game, demonstrating of a bond between families that goes beyond football.

“Even in the midst of their unfathomable grief, Jonathan and Holley insisted on giving their son one last gift: the chance to make a difference in the lives of others,” Amanda said. “There are no words to adequately express our gratitude for their selflessness, their persistence and, of course, for the gift of life.”

The Perry and Boswell families