By Angela Musallam

LODI (CBS13) — A tragedy brings two people together in Lodi for an important occasion.

Eric Blackwell, a football coach for the Lodi Titans, received a liver transplant a few months ago from a fellow Titan who died from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound in March.

On Wednesday, Blackwell got the chance to meet his donor’s family for the first time for a once in a lifetime moment.

“He was just fun and loving and full of life,” said Silvia VanSteyn, the mother of Michael Rodriguez.

But the life of 13-year-old Michael Rodriguez was cut short when he died from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound in March.

“The doctors told us Michael wasn’t gonna make it so I wanted to donate his organs to give someone else a chance,” VanSteyn said.

She didn’t know she’d be saving the life of someone who had crossed paths with her son.

“It’s emotional, humbling and really grateful,” said Blackwell.

Blackwell was diagnosed with liver cancer last May. He coaches the Lodi Titans’ football starter division, ironically the same league where Michael played varsity football.

“With Michael being an O-positive blood type he pretty much matches with any blood type and we were a match,” said Blackwell.

VanSteyn and Blackwell share a mutual friend who learned about Blackwell’s condition after the tragedy. Blackwell is still healing after having the transplant surgery a few months ago.

“It’s a little ironic,” Blackwell added.

On Wednesday, Blackwell got the chance to share a special moment with the VanSteyn family. Not only did he meet them for the first time, but he accepted Michael’s middle school diploma as a thank you for giving him a second shot at life.

“It was kind of awesome, I just felt like someone kind of squeezed my heart real quick for a second,” exclaimed VanSteyn.

Although Michael wasn’t on the stage Wednesday, his mom says she knows he was there in spirit.

“I think this is something that he would have wanted to do.”

Two souls connected through a twist of fate, and a life ended too soon, offering a future through a life saved.


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