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Organ recipient accepts diploma for dead 13-year-old who donated liver

Posted at 12:21 PM, Jun 08, 2017

GALT, Calif.  -- Eric Blackwell, 35, walked up on stage to accept the last diploma at the McCaffrey Middle School eighth-grade promotion ceremony. It wasn't for him -- it was for the boy who saved his life.

"How amazing this opportunity was. And how rare it was," Blackwell said.

On March 11, 13-year-old Michael Balsley-Rodriguez died after accidentally shooting himself. He never got to live out his dreams of becoming a football coach. After the tragedy, Michael's parents vowed to have their son live on through the gift of life.

Last May, Blackwell was diagnosed with stage 3 liver cancer.

Doctors gave him three years to live. The odds were not in his favor.

"I was number 5,000 something on the list, so it may have been six years," Blackwell said.

Then on March 11th, he got a call. Michael was a near perfect match.

And as fate would have it, Blackwell is a football coach for the same team Michael played on - just in a different age division.

"Everything coming together, it's like wow. It's almost like it was meant to be in some kind of way," said Michael's mother, Silvia Vansteyn.

For Michael's mother, hearing her son's name at graduation was bittersweet. But knowing he saved Blackwell's life meant the world.

"Michael is inside of him, and I actually got to hug him today. And it was pretty cool," Vansteyn said.

"Michael wanted to be a football coach. And now he can live inside of me, and continue his legacy to be that,"Blackwell said.

"In this tragedy, something good came out of it," Vansteyn said.