ANN ARBOR, Mich. - "I'm still waiting for my hero."
They're just six short words, delivered by an 11-year-old boy with a sweet smile.
His name is Caden Bowles, and his family hopes he can convince you to be a hero.
We usually bring you the happy stories of organ donation -- the patients who get the gift of life, often in the nick of time. That didn't happen in this case, and perhaps that makes Caden's story even more important to share.
Caden was a kind, talkative, joyful 11-year-old boy from Fort Wayne, Indiana. A peacemaker, who was intelligent beyond his years.
"He loved life, and he wanted to live," said Caden's mom Shannon Bowles.
Caden loved his three younger siblings Ava, Brigham and Drake. And Caden loved cars -- really, really loved cars.
"From the nicest, most expensive sports car to the infamous Yugo, he thought they were all great and have their place," said dad Lance Bowles.
Born with a heart defect that couldn't be fixed, Caden received a heart transplant at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital when he was just six weeks old.
"He all of a sudden was this healthy child, and we were able to leave the hospital within two weeks after that surgery to go home," said Shannon. "So he could have a normal childhood."
But at age seven, Caden developed cancer, a side effect of the drugs he took to keep his body from rejecting his new heart.
He beat the cancer, but last year, began to feel sick. Doctors had to break the news to his parents and to Caden.
"His transplant doctor came in and they very gently told him that he was rejecting his heart, and he said, 'I'm rejecting my heart?' said Shannon. "He was just shocked, and one of his doctors who was standing there said, 'Caden, we're going to beat this, OK?'"
Dr. John Charpie, a pediatric cardiologist at C.S. Mott, was one of those doctors.
"Even in this day and age, with all of the advances in technology and medicine, most heart transplants last about ten years," said Charpie. "So one of the problems we run into with infants who require hearts is they're going to require several heart transplants throughout their life."
Doctors tried to control the rejection, but it became clear Caden needed a new heart soon.
And so there he was, waiting, when he was asked by U of M to be part of a video to promote organ donation. He agreed.
"It was so typical of Caden," said Charpie. "He was always giving, he was always thinking of others."
When the big moment arrived --
"He seemed a little nervous to me. His voice seemed a little shaky. He wanted to say the right thing," remembered Shannon.
But he delivered his line like the champ he was.
"I'm still waiting for my hero."
It would be one of the last things Caden got to do. Hours later, he took a turn for the worse. He was put on a bypass machine, and then a mechanical heart, trying to buy time.
But there was no donor heart available.
"They rushed him down to CT scan, and we knew something was terribly wrong. And he had had a stroke," said Shannon. "The neurologist came in and examined him and said, 'There's nothing we can do.' And at moment, he was gone."
With the mechanical heart still beating, Caden's family would spend the day saying their goodbyes. But they weren't alone.
"It was pretty devastating," said Charpie. "We had all grown so close to Caden, but also to his family. Everyone who had cared for Caden, we really rallied around them and showed our support, and everybody wanted to come say goodbye to him."
Caden passed away on September 11th.
His organs couldn't be donated, but his eyes were, giving others the gift of sight.
In the days that followed, U of M had to decide what to do with the footage of Caden. They decided they couldn't include it in the video, but no one wanted to let Caden's last request go unheard. After all, Caden lived nearly his whole life on a donated heart.
"That heart that he got, he really, he really lived it out," said Shannon.
"We got 11 years," said Lance. "We got to experience our son and get to know him."
U of M decided to make another video, this time starring Caden. His family hopes it will help spread the word about organ donation.
"It's a very tough thing to talk about. It's a tough thing to think about," said Lance.
"It's not just happening to a few people. There are a lot of people that are in need and waiting, and there are many people that are dying," said Shannon. "It makes such a difference, and it's so worth it, and you will not regret it. I think if anything, you would regret not doing it."
In the face of such a devastating loss, Caden's parents say their faith has given them strength and hope.
"I had hope that Caden would live for a long time. I still have hope. I have, we have hope in God and that we will see him again and that he's in Heaven," said Shannon. "He was special. He was a very special little boy."
Six words. One request.
"I'm still waiting for my hero."
To be a hero and join the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, click here. Caden's family hopes you will encourage your family and friends to do the same.
There are two events planned to honor Caden's life and love of cars. "Caden's Full Throttle Event: Horsepower With A Heart" will be held July 11th. The vintage and exotic car show will raise funds for congenital heart research and pediatric heart transplants at Mott Children's Hospital.
A private car show is also planned for the young patients at Mott. "Caden's Car Show" will be held this summer to give other children the chance to share in something Caden loved so much.
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