One family’s heartbreaking loss multiplies into many lives saved, including one who is racing to honor a fellow teen’s legacy
October 18, 2016
Daniel Obregon drove through more than two hours of Texas countryside for the meeting he had been thinking about for more than a year. He stepped inside the small-town diner, thrust his hands deep into his pockets and said, “I’m so nervous.”
Daniel, 17, of Fort Worth, received a highly successful liver transplant at Children’s Medical Center Dallas in October 2015. One year later, he found himself in the rural town of Alto to meet the parents of his donor, Cam’ron Matthews, a fellow teenage athlete who saved his life.
Cam’ron, 16 at the time and a football player at Alto High School, suffered a head injury and collapsed on the football field on Oct. 16, 2015. At the same time in Dallas, Daniel’s liver was failing and doctors at Children’s were fighting to keep him alive.
The next day Cam’ron died. His parents, shocked and grief-stricken, put aside their heartbreak and honored their son’s wish to be an organ donor. Cam’ron’s liver was rushed 150 miles north to Children’s, where it saved Daniel’s life.
“If it wasn’t for his decision, I wouldn’t be here. I owe him. I owe him my life, and I have to pay the legacy,” Daniel said.
Daniel approached Cam’ron’s parents with a bit of caution in his step, but gentle hugs came quickly, and Cam’ron’s father, Ronnie Matthews, broke the ice with warmth and big heartedness.
“How you doing? You doing all right? You look good, a good healthy young man,” Mr. Matthews said with a big smile. “We’re happy to see you here. We’re happy that you’re doing good. We’re family now.”
Daniel’s mother, Fernanda Bell, and Cam’ron’s mother, Gayla Matthews, talked quietly at the side of the room. Mrs. Bell told of how she watched in horror as she almost lost her son.
“We have Cam with us,” Mrs. Bell said. “We have part of Cam with us for life.”
Daniel told Mr. Matthews and others at the gathering about how his liver started failing rapidly and without warning, how his eyes and skin turned yellow, and how he woke up in the hospital not knowing where he was. Doctors still don’t know why Daniel’s liver failed, but they are certain he would not have survived without a transplant.
Daniel has been a competitive bicycle motocross (BMX) racer since age 8. Mr. Matthews said it was heartening to look at Daniel – who is the same age that Cam’ron would be – and see a young man who loves sports as his son did. He said meeting grateful people who had received Cam’ron’s organs has been a huge source of comfort after losing his son.
Mr. Matthews gestured toward a group of teenage boys standing silently by and told Daniel, “These were all guys who he grew up with, playing sports. They love Cam, so they love you.”
The families then moved on to the football field where Cam’ron played so many games. It is now named after him, and on that night hundreds from Alto turned out for a memorial service in Cam’ron’s honor.
Friends spoke of what a great person Cam’ron was – honor roll student, talented athlete and supportive friend. A man who received Cam’ron’s heart and another man who received Cam’ron’s lung spoke of their unending gratefulness to Cam’ron and his family.
Daniel rose to speak and expressed the same gratitude.
“I’m glad that Cam’ron became a hero, that I have a chance to live,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here if it were not for Cam’ron.”
Then he asked Cam’ron’s parents to come stand next to him. He pulled a BMX medal out of his pocket. He said it was the first medal he had won since his transplant, and he wanted Cam’ron’s parents to have it. He put the medal around Mrs. Matthews’ neck and hugged her as the crowd rose for a standing ovation.
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