SPOKANE — Seven months ago Drew Swank, a 17-year-old football player from Hauser Lake, died suddenly and unexpectedly. But in his death he passed the gift of life on to others.
“He had a tender heart, he had a very tender heart towards others and he would have wanted to do it, no doubt,” Patti said.
Once the doctors declared Drew brain dead they approached the family about organ donation.
“The doctor said Drew was like a rock star from the neck down,” Drew’s dad Don Swank said.
Five months before his death, Drew brought organ donation up while he was driving to school with his mom.
“I thought it was out of the blue that he just brought it up, we weren’t talking about it, he just asked the question,” recalls Patti.
When Drew passed away his story resonated far beyond the Inland Northwest. His story struck a chord with Port Angeles resident Teresa Fletcher, who is a mother of two kids.
“I couldn’t quit reading this story. I couldn’t quit looking at his picture.” Fletcher said. “I really just looked over that story and thought, you know I’ve got a son just about the same age.”
Fletcher didn’t know at the time that the boy she was reading about in the news is the same boy that would save her 15-year-old son Austin. Austin had battled Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a liver disease, for years. While his mom was reading the article about Drew Swank Austin’s transplant coordinator called to tell him she had found a perfect match for him.
The transplant was a success and Austin says his new liver brought him back to being a normal 15-year-old boy.
“It means life, I got a second chance at life,” he said.
Austin has never been able to play baseball until this year. His jersey number is 15; coincidentally Drew Swank’s jersey number was also 15.
“He was kind of like me, he played in the dirt a lot, just a sweet boy,” Austin said.
The Fletchers live in Port Angeles so part of Drew is now home in a town with a name that means Port of the Angels. Teresa Fletcher has made sweatshirts with Drew’s face on the front as a way of showing her son’s angel’s face to the world.
“I wanted to be able to say thank you,” Teresa explained.
The Fletchers and the Swanks are family now with a bond that goes beyond DNA.
“Austin warms our heart, lifts our spirits, just how he’s doing, we get little updates,” Patti Swank said.
Although they’ve never met the two families have exchanged emails, calls and homemade video tapes of their sons.
“I heard lots of stories, my favorite story of him, on Valentines Day he bought all the girls in his classroom flowers so nobody would feel left out,” Teresa Fletcher said.
“Not only would Drew help another kid up when he got tackled by another kid or after he tackled a kid, he’d pat them on the back. He didn’t learn that from me, he did it from his own heart,” Don Swank said.
If there’s anyone that knows about Drew’s heart it would be Lee Blumenthal. Lee knows more about Drew’s heart than anyone and he never got the chance to meet him.
“I’d like to meet his family someday, so they can feel my chest, feel his heart, know he’s still alive in me,” says Blumenthal, who received Drew’s heart.
Before he received the organ transplant a mechanical heart was keeping Lee alive. Cindy Cline, Lee’s sister, says she was preparing herself for the worst.
“I knew that it was coming to an end. I just knew it was coming close to him not being here,” Cindy said as she fought back to the tears.
“A year ago, I couldn’t get off the couch, walking to the door was exhausting. Today I can run and jump and play with my kids,” Lee said.
Blumenthal has three sons ages 21, 19 and his youngest is just a few months older than Drew was.
“They’re excited. I keep bragging that I have a younger heart than they do,” Blumenthal joked.
Several times every day he stops to think about the boy who brought him back to life and gave his sons a father.
“I talk to him in prayer. I tell him I love him, thank you for the heart,” Blumenthal said.
Drew’s parents find solace in the lives their son has changed. In all eight people including Austin Fletcher and Lee Blumenthal are alive because of Swank’s sacrifice.
“We’re very, very happy that God could use our son to help them and prolong their lives,” Patti said. “The worst day of your life is the best day of their life and it’s true, but we’re happy and we’re thankful that our son could help them.”
The Swanks say they have found peace knowing that their son is in heaven.
“I know that’s where my son is, he’s home and we’re going to be home with him someday too,” Patti said.
Swank, a football player with Valley Christian, took a blow to the head during a game in September and never woke up.
“He just said my head hurts and his dad was trying to take his helmet off and he said, ‘Dad don’t take my helmet off, I’m going to throw up. That was it, he collapsed,” his mom Patti Swank said.
But Drew’s story didn’t end with his death.