The cadence of John Clarke Perry's heartbeat echoes from a teddy bear wearing his onesie in the Perry home.
The repetitive thumps mix with the sound of his sisters' playing.
At the push of a paw, a reminder of a boy forever six-months-old plays for his family while his actual heart beats elsewhere – in the chest of an Alabama boy.
Davis Boswell’s life was saved by a heart transplant following John Clarke’s death in November 2015.
In a sequence of events both families will tell you was orchestrated by God, hope was born from a tragedy and lifelong friendships forged because of a baby who was strong and courageous until the very end.
Heart of a Tiger
FOUNDATION RAISES AWARENESS, HELPS FAMILIES
"There was something really special about John Clarke’s heart that only my family knows. I finally said let’s just put it on a shirt that way Davis can have it. It says 'My heart bleeds purple and gold,'" Jonathan Perry, father of John Clarke said.
He spoke those words at a Donate Life event held in Opelika, Alabama at the East Alabama Medical Center. On an April day in 2016, the Perrys met the Boswell family, including Davis, for the first time.
The two couples would later reunite at the LSU and Auburn game in September 2016, a meetup that could become an annual tradition. The Perrys are devoted LSU football fans while the Boswells support the Auburn Tigers.
Saturday, both families took to the field at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge to honor the memory of John Clarke; educate the public about organ, eye and tissue donation and inspire others to add to the donor registry through Donate Life Louisiana.
John Clarke Perry's strong and courageous life saved one Alabama boy and has helped thousands chose to be organ donors.
The event is in keeping with one of the missions of the John Clarke Perry Foundation, which counts increasing the donor registry as a goal. During last year's LSU and Auburn game, 15,000 new people were added to the donor registry.
"We started the foundation, and the whole point was to provide financial assistance to children who need any life-changing medical treatments," Jonathan said.
Sales of T-shirts, including LSU and Auburn versions bearing the Bible verse Joshua 1:9, help raise money for the charity, which has already helped provide funding to three different families, including two who later benefited from organ donation.
As the Perry family's story traveled the country, it brought new opportunities to share the testimony of John Clarke's life and help others in unanticipated ways.
The family from Monroe, La. promotes fundraising for the neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric intensive care unit at St. Francis Medical Center in their hometown.
They also have plans to sponsor a room at the children's hospital under construction at Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge. Holley Perry would also like the family to help build a playground.
Jonathan said the new hospital will be one of the top children's facilities in the United States and will also benefit families in northeastern Louisiana through a partnership with St. Francis via the Franciscan ministries. Children at St. Francis can be transported to Our Lady of the Lake while doctors will be able to visit Monroe.
The family hopes their foundation will continue to grow while keeping at its center what makes it special.
"I want to get as big as possible, but I never want it to turn into where the Christian side, the family side, is taken out," Perry said. "Where it is 'Fill out this form, and we will send it to a group of people, and they will read over it.' I never want that to happen. I think the Lord sends us people, and the fact that the very first family we helped was a kidney transplant shows that in itself."
John Clarke Perry
PEACE DESCENDS ON A SAD DAY
The Perrys have a deep appreciation for the healthcare needs of families, and the care they received at a difficult time from a staff ready to pray with them and love John Clarke as he left this world.
In November of 2015, John Clarke spiked a fever and doctors discovered bleeding in his brain from an abnormal vessel malformation. Two surgeries at St. Francis failed to stop the bleed but gave the parents three additional days with their son — days that helped them say goodbye and choose to be organ donors.
"If we would have gone there that (first) night, and then he would have have died that night," Jonathan said, "we probably would not have done an organ donation. We probably would have been complete wrecks. It was definitely a God thing."
“We sat down with the doctor, and he said, ‘I’m sorry there is nothing else we can do. What we do need to talk about is organ donation.'”
Jonathan said the staff at St. Francis embraced his family, prayed with them and nurses stayed by John Clarke's side.
"We sat down with the doctor, and he said, ‘I’m sorry there is nothing else we can do. What we do need to talk about is organ donation,'" Holley said in a 2016 interview with The News-Star.
On the Perrys' last visit to the hospital, the nurses who cared for John Clarke were not on duty but came to the hospital to be with them.
"I guess if I weren't a Christian, I would think it was really strange," Jonathan said. "We went up there, and we talked to him. We gave him a kiss. We talked to nurses, to doctors, and we turned around and walked out of there, and it was the weirdest calmness. And I tell people, even now, thinking about having to do that with one of my other kids, I couldn't even get in the vehicle."
"We had such peace," Holley said, continuing Jonathan's thought.
Holley wanted John Clarke's heart and lungs to help another child but was told that might not be possible because few infants need hearts.
However, John Clarke's heart beat the odds and traveled to Davis in Alabama.
In an earlier interview, Amanda Boswell, said her son, Davis, 2, began battling an illness shortly after his birth on Jun 30, 2015. By July 9, he was airlifted to the children's hospital in Birmingham with heart failure.
A Berlin heart, a blood pump that helps a patient's heart maintain blood flow, was used until Davis could receive a donor heart. One hundred and fifteen days later, John Clarke's arrived.
By January of 2016, Davis was able to return home.
Strong and Courageous
ANNUAL REUNION RAISES AWARENESS FOR ORGAN DONATION
When the Perrys left Monroe for Baton Rouge on Thursday, a full schedule was ahead of them with a hospital tour at Our Lady of the Lake and on-campus events at LSU with the Boswells, who they met through a mutual friend. The friend was the person who realized the link between the two families.
"The connection with them is like old friends," Jonathan said before the Baton Rouge trip. "We haven't seen each other since September, but as soon as we do, it will be just like we saw other last week. They have never been to Baton Rouge, so I've reached out to Joe Alleva and the president of LSU to make sure we show them the same courtesy Auburn showed us."
When the families met up last September for the game, it was the first time that Emarie Perry, 4, and Ella Perry, 2, met Davis and the Boswells. Ella is John Clarke's twin sister.
The Perrys said the connection between Ella and Davis was immediate. Davis gave Ella a "noggin," the Boswell equivalent of a kiss.
"When we met them on Auburn's campus ... he immediately leaned out to give Ella a noggin," Holley said. " ... It was just really cool how he immediately did that to Ella, and he had never met her before."
And Davis' bond with the Perrys extends beyond Ella.
"He wasn't even a year old the first time we met him," Holley said. "That was in April, and we saw him again in September. He was not even a year and a half old, and he remembered ... He would immediately reach out for us. It was really awesome. It was like a connection you can't really explain."
This year, another new meeting also took place with the introduction of Evie Clarke Perry, born in April.
Evie Clarke joined the family as a bit of a surprise — the family was previously told they would always need fertility treatments to have children. Her parents say her temperament matches that of the brother whose middle name she shares.
“We tell people all the time the Lord has blessed us with a lot, and that has always been the message.”
"It's amazing how much of their personalities are exactly the same," Jonathan said. "They are the happiest babies ever. (Emarie) and (Ella) are a little more of a handful."
The family routinely visits the cemetery where John Clarke is buried for their children to play. They say some think it is crazy, but it works for their family, who takes comfort in the continuing blessings unfolding in their lives.
"One of the biggest things is Holley and I, not that we don't have our good days and bad days, but we see other people who have lost children who are five or six years down the road and are still where they were at to begin with," Jonathan said. "... We tell people all the time the Lord has blessed us with a lot, and that has always been the message. Of course we would have done things differently, but there are so many people who have either became Christians because of the story or have to come to us and said, 'That's inspired us.'"
He remembers a statement made by Jay Jacobs, Auburn's athletic director, at last year's game. Jacobs said many people see the heart on their driver's license and don't think twice about it.
Perry takes it a step further, saying many think it's just the recipient who gets a blessing, but it's not the reality.
For the Perrys, knowing the Boswells did not have to suffer the loss they did brings a peace.— the peace they also felt at St. Francis in November of 2015.
"Us seeing Davis and getting to talk to him ... to see them not go through what we went through..." Perry said. "Watching him grow up has been really great."