It’s been more than a year since Marcus Kowal’s 15-month-old son, Liam, was killed by a drunk driver in California. Now, the MMA fighter and his wife, Mishel, are opening up about life after the heartbreaking tragedy as they care for their new baby, 4-month-old Nico.
“He’s been a blessing and he has really helped us on this healing journey,” Mishel said of little Nico as the family appears on a new episode of The Doctors. Kowal adds: “It’s important for him to know that he’s his own person and he never feels that he lives in the shadow of his brother, but he’s proud of his older brother and knows of his older brother.”
Kowal said life without little Liam has been difficult, but the family finds solace in the fact that Liam helped saved other people’s life through organ donation. And the family started the Liam’s Life Foundation to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving.
“The reason why we chose Liam was it means ‘the people’s protector,’ ” Kowal begins. “When we named him — and this was not the way we had hoped for him to be a protector — but he’s already saved lives directly by donating his organs but also just from the people that reached out to us around the world pledging to never drink and drive again.”
Kowal adds of Liam: “His 15 months here on the planet has helped saved tons of lives.”
Last year, Liam was in his stroller going for a walk with his 15-year-old aunt when they were both struck by a car while crossing the street, police said then. Responding officers found the two victims in the street near the crosswalk. While the teen suffered leg injuries, Liam was found “pulseless and not breathing.”
He was taken to UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles where doctors declared him brain dead. He was removed from life support shortly after.
“This whole thing has been torture,” Kowal told PEOPLE at the time.
“To stand there, watching these doctors testing him, checking his pupils, his reflexes … to be there, hoping that there might be some kind of movement, so that he can remain on life support and have a fighting chance was agonizing.”
“You know the damage has been done, but you’re just hoping he will move slightly – make a small twitch,” Kowal says. “But he didn’t, and we just wanted to sit in a room and cry.”
The driver, 73-year-old Donna Marie Higgins pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and was sentenced to six years in prison for the crime, the Los Angeles Times reports.
MMA Fighter Marcus Kowal Opens Up About Removing His Only Child from Life Support: ‘I Have Never Felt More Pain’
Kowal has not been shy about the incident, sharing updates and details after his son’s passing on Facebook. He and his wife’s healing journey progressed in July when they welcomed little Nico. Then, Kowal announced the news in a Facebook post, writing it as a special message to his late son.
“Today your little brother was born Liam. His name is Nico. Your name means ‘the people’s protector’. Your little brother’s name means ‘the people’s victory’.” Kowal wrote in the post, including a photo of Mishel holding the baby.
“He was born in the same room as you were, by the same doctor, who remembers you very much. He looks a lot like you but he has more hair. One day, when he’s old enough, he will learn about his older brother and he will be proud of you, just like I’m sure you will be proud of him. Your mommy is doing fine. Look after him, will you?”