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A Heartbeat Away: The story of Da'jeianna and Dalton

ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. -

On May 16, 2012 one tragedy turned unimaginable hurt into hope.

It’s been exactly five years since the lives of two families changed forever.

Five years ago, Valerie Matthews and Dalton Igoe were complete strangers.

On Wednesday, the two joined together in the most unwelcoming of places clinging to the unlikeliest of bonds.

Separated now only by time and space, their journey is one of heartbreak, hope, courage and ultimately a close-knit care that only two souls can feel when their worlds collide.

Over four unforgettable days in May of 2012, two families who were 450 miles apart, were forever fused by one heartbeat.

Matthews is the mother of Da’jeianna Smith.

“On May 16, Da’jeianna got home from school and did her homework and did her chores like she always did,” said Matthews.

On most days Matthews’ daughter, 12-year-old Da’jeianna attended an after-school program at the YMCA, but this day was different.

“No, no. today I’m gonna meet my friends at the park at school,” Da’jeianna told her mother.

“Before she left, I still remember it and I still remember we laughed and we joked, and I remember us saying ‘bye’ and we love each other. On her walk home, she passed by her brother and sister and they were headed to the park and they said ‘hey come back to the park,’ and she said she was hot and wanted to go home. Within a couple minutes of seeing them, a truck ran off the road and hit her,” said Matthews.

The accident happened on County Road 108 in Elkhart.

“As soon as they said it was a girl that got hit, I turned around and was on my way to the emergency room…without even knowing,” said Matthews.

Fighting for her life, Da’jeianna was airlifted to Memorial Hospital in South Bend.

The news was unimaginable.

Da’jeianna suffered an irreparable brain stem injury and was pronounced dead.

“They did an investigation and they said that since he didn’t have drugs or alcohol in his system, that he wasn’t charged with anything. They ruled it as an accident. I’ve never heard from him or got an apology,” said Matthews.

Meanwhile in Altoona, Pennsylvania, time was running out for 15-year-old Dalton Igoe.

Dawn Igoe is Dalton’s mother.

“He was really sick. He was always in and out of the children’s hospital. He had four open hearts,” said Igoe.

On May 18, 2012 the day started like any other for Dalton.

Since the day he was born, he’s been battling a bevy of health issues.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t even walk five steps without getting out of breath,” said Dalton.

Dalton had six congenital heart defects and only one functioning lung.

That day, his mother received the call she’ll never forget.

“And she’s like, ‘well you are gonna need that shower.’ I said, ‘really?’ She said, ‘we have a heart,’ and I just dropped to the ground.”

Dalton had been added to the transplant list just 10 days prior.

“We went to the junior high to find him. The sickest kid in the junior high, and they couldn’t find him,” said Igoe.

In a split second, Dawn’s son was given a second chance.

“Like it should be what you should do, that’s how I personally felt. Even for me to be an organ donor, I didn’t have to think twice about that,” said Matthews.

In just three days, universes had shifted and the planets aligned.

“Our first instinct was to pray for this family, because we knew Dalton had to receive a small heart,” said Igoe.

On May 18, 2012, Da’jeianna Smith gave Dalton Igoe the ultimate gift: her heart.

“For me, it’s so important for her to never be forgotten and for us to remember her,” said Matthews.

“No parent should ever bury their child, but your child lives on inside of mine,” said Igoe.

 Two souls forever linked by one heartbeat.

“To me, I got the best part. I really do feel that,” said Dalton.

Today, the memories Valerie Matthews holds dear of her daughter will surely never fade.

“Part of our prayer is always, we always thank God for Da’jeianna and for her life that she shared with us and her heart that is still beating. That’s just part of our prayer now,” said Matthews.

Now 20-years-old, Dalton and his mother are following up on a promise they made to their Michiana family that on the 5th anniversary, they would bring part of Da’jeianna back to the place it all began.

A promise to walk the same road she did, that day in May of 2012, and to spend time doing things she loved with the people she loved.

“Bringing home Da’jeianna’s heart where it belongs, bringing everything home,” said Dalton.

Dalton is now a volunteer firefighter and just received his EMS certification.

“I always carry my core bracelets on my fire helmet and just thinking of her every time I go in to a burning building or car wreck. They are always on my helmet. It’s a good beat, it is. A heart of gold,” said Dalton.

A hug, smile, laugh and a sign of gratitude.

A walk to remember.

Brush strokes to wash away the pain that still penetrates the outer shells of the lives she still touches.

On this day, Valerie Matthews and Dalton Igoe are no longer strangers.

Time and space are a separation these two will never feel.

They know now their journey always led to this destination.

Although there may always be hurt and heartache, Valerie Matthews knows her ‘Day Day’ is only a heartbeat away.

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