Family Takes Solace Knowing Their 3-Year-Old Daughter's Death Has Saved the Lives of 2 Other Children Thanks to Her Donated Organs
Mother of Deceased 3-Year-Old Says Daughter's Purpose in Life Was to Help Others
Olivia Swedberg was a vibrant and strong-willed 3-year-old. She refused to wear pants – opting instead for princess dresses. She attended gymnastics class every Wednesday and could quote every line from Disney’s Frozen.
Little O, as her family called her, had an “infectious love for life,” according to her mother, Lauressa – a trait she hopes will live on in the recipients of her daughter’s organs.
Only two months after being diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an incurable brain tumor that primarily affects children, Olivia died on June 30 at age 3.
Posthumously, the spunky “Let It Go” fanatic from North Platte, Nebraska, has already saved two lives by donating her organs to other children. And it’s all thanks to social media.
“Organ donation was hard to discuss, of course. But we wanted Olivia’s passion for life to be carried on through others,” Lauressa Swedberg, 31, tells PEOPLE. “Because this type of tumor has no cure and would have ultimately come back and taken her life within months, we couldn’t imagine putting her through treatments at the age of 3. We just wanted her to be happy and alive for as long as she could.”
So the Swedberg family decided to forgo chemotherapy and radiation. They instead planned one last tropical vacation and started discussing the possibility of organ donation.
On June 20, they set out on a Make-a-Wish Nebraska-sponsored Disney cruise, where Olivia swam with dolphins and lounged on the beach – some of the last happy memories the Swedbergs have of their daughter.
On the trip, Olivia became fatigued and was sent to the boat’s ICU. The family immediately docked in Orlando, where doctors found that her left lung had collapsed.
At the Florida hospital Swedberg received a Facebook message from a stranger that would forever bond the lives of three unknowing families.
“A woman messaged me saying she had been following Olivia’s story through social media, knew she was a donor, and felt compelled by God to reach out,” says Swedberg. “She told me she had also been following a tragic story about a boy in Pennsylvania that was in desperate need of a liver. She wanted to link us up.”
That child was 2-year-old Lucas Goeller, who was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a life-threatening condition in infants that affects the bile ducts.
Since birth, Lucas has been in and out of the hospital frequently for various surgeries, blood transfusions and ICU visits. He could not walk on his own, had very little muscle development and struggled to breathe.
Swedberg messaged the Goeller family on Facebook and offered the possibility of a direct liver donation. She found out that the two children had different blood types, but she was confident that “all would work out.” At the time, doctors had predicted that Lucas would live only a few more weeks without a full liver.
On the morning of June 30, Olivia was declared clinically brain dead. And the next day Swedberg received notification that her daughter’s liver had been placed. The Swedberg family was not able to directly send their daughter’s liver to little Lucas, but instead had to donate it to an organ bank. Unable to get information on who had received the liver, Swedberg turned to Lucas’ Facebook page, Save Lucas, where she saw that the little boy had indeed been given her daughter’s organ.
“I woke up that morning knowing my daughter had passed, but after seeing Lucas’ status update that he had gotten it, I felt such peace and comfort knowing that she was going to live on,” says Swedberg. “I’m mourning and grieving, but I had a renewed faith knowing Olivia saved that little boy.”
Jessica Goeller, 33, tells PEOPLE that she had a mix of emotions when she found out on July 1 that her son would be receiving the lifesaving organ.
“When I realized his donor was the little girl of the woman who had Facebook messaged me, I just couldn’t believe it,” she says. “Lauressa, during her darkest hour, was willing to reach out and love another child. She was able to say: ‘My daughter’s purpose is to give life to another.’ I know that Olivia is his guardian angel, looking over him right now.”
But Lucas wasn’t the only child Olivia saved. Four-year-old Angelo Giorno, stationed in a neighboring room at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, received Olivia’s intestines.
Angelo was born premature, with his intestines outside of his body. Doctors were forced to remove the organs, resulting in what is known as “short gut syndrome.” He has had over 15 reconstructive surgeries in his short life.
“I knew that somebody had to pass away to give the gift that Angelo got,” says his father, Dale Darazio, 45. “It’s a tragedy, but it’s such a blessing. Olivia will always live on in Angelo. We’re keeping scrapbooks and information on her. He’s going to know Olivia, and her parents. She gave him the gift of life.”
The three families stay in contact through Facebook, keeping one another updated on the recovery status of both boys. They all plan to meet up in October.
“My Little O had a purpose in this life, and that was to help Lucas and Angelo. I’m sure of it,” says Swedberg. “I’m amazed at the power of social media. I really do think this was a miracle.”