Eric Blackwell walked up on stage to accept the last diploma at a Sacramento-area eighth grade graduation ceremony Wednesday, but 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, 35, told KTLA sister station KTXL.
Michael Balsley-Rodriguez, 13, died after accidentally shooting himself on March 11. He never got to live out his dreams of becoming a football coach. After the accident, 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 and doctors gave him three years to live.
"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.
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," Michael's mother, Silvia Vansteyn said.
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," Vansteyn said after the graduation at a Galt, California middle school.
"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.