Family forges rare friendship after tragic loss

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One family's tragedy gave a local girl a second chance at life. Recently, the two families met again for one special night. A bittersweet reunion after a rare twist of fate.

Dale Carnahan (Photo: WJLA)

"I feel like I'm here to take care of everything for him…," said Cathy Carnahan of her son, Dale Carnahan.

Dale was a high school athlete who died too soon. The 18-year-old was buried in a Redskins jersey after the car accident that took his life.

"I would do anything to have my son back… anything…," Cathy exclaimed.

Poolesville, Md. is a small slice of Americana 30 miles from Washington, D.C., where a water tower stands tall and high school sports unite the community.

Dale's sister, Kelsey, now a standout, three sport athlete, had a basketball game the night her brother died - she played anyway.

"Sports became her safe haven… and she just poured herself into it," her mom said. 

Kelsey added, "I know he would have wanted me to play, so best way to honor him that night…On my shoes I wrote, 'love and miss you Dale.'"

In death, Dale gave back as an organ donor, providing a better life for people all along the East Coast.

"Over 150 people they said. From his skin to his bones to his eyes…," Cathy explained.

His heart went to 14-year-old Julia Taylor of Northern Virginia.

"You know, this is your last hope that someone else's life has been shattered so not a lot of joy in that," Julia's dad said.

Now, Julia, who could barely walk up the steps a few years ago, is an athlete herself. 

"I feel a lot better. I play sports…I'm gonna try out for the soccer team…," Julia said.

It's rare for a heart recipient and the donor's family to meet, let alone become close friends.

Now this family, biological and extended, gather one more time for a small town ritual.

It's senior night for Kelsey. Wearing Dale's favorite number 12 one last time for the home crowd, she was escorted by her parents and Julia - with Dale's heart right by her side. 

"I wish he could be there…,"Kelsey said. "But I know he is watching, so it's honoring him at the same time…"

Two girls connected arm in arm and connected at the heart, almost like family.

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