OCEANSIDE, Calif. — A family is turning the tragedy of their child’s sudden death into a gift for other families after what they thought was a stomach bug turned out to be something very different.
Gavin Raceles was a vivacious and healthy 7-year-old. His parents described him as a light in everyone’s day who always had pep in his step and loved to dance. He also had big dreams.
“When I would ask him just the last few years what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would always say the world’s biggest superhero,” said his mom, Tawni Raceles. “I don’t think we knew what that meant, but now he is.”
Chris and Tawni Raceles said it came unexpectedly one night after they had put Gavin to bed. “Gavin just said, ‘My tummy hurts. I had a bad dream, I feel like a monster slashed my tummy.’ So we kind of just thought maybe he was getting a stomach bug,” Tawni said.
Gavin’s condition continued to worsen, so they decided to take him to a hospital. Things escalated on the drive there when Gavin suddenly stopped breathing. The family left the freeway and flagged down an ambulance.
By the time they arrived at the hospital, Gavin had no brain activity.
His parents learned what they thought was a stomach bug was actually a twist in Gavin’s intestines. “It’s very rare,” Tawni said. “It’s not anything someone could have caught from him. It’s just a freak thing that happened.”
They put out a call for prayer on social media that went viral.
“We had, like, millions praying around the world. It was so powerful,” Tawni recalled. “I just had this moment where I realized, I don’t think we’re gonna get the same miracle we wanted, but we can give the miracle to others. And so we shifted our prayers and said please, let’s just pray that he can help some other people through this tragedy.”
Those prayers were answered. The parents chose to go through the organ donation process, where Gavin’s one life helped save three others.
“We ended up finding out that his heart went to a 2-year-old, and his liver went to a woman I believe in Northern California, and then his kidney to a woman in Southern California,” Tawni said.
The couple said they are finding purpose in their tragedy through Gavin’s gift of life to others and seeing his dream to be the world’s biggest superhero come true.
“It was really crazy for [us] to be feeling so sad about everything, but we felt joy when we found out the transplants were successful,” Tawni said.
Now Tawni and Chris are raising awareness about what they describe as the beautiful process of organ donation. They are also starting a nonprofit in Gavin’s honor. “The thought of Christmas really broke our hearts, but the thought of using some of his organization to shop for the kids at [Rady Children’s Hospital] and shop for the families … I think this is really going to help us through this process,” Tawni said.
Friends of the Raceles family have set up a GoFundMe page for them, which has already raised more than $54,000.
A candlelight vigil is set for Friday, where community members plan to come dressed as their favorite superhero.