Advertisement
  1. News

Mother of Venice beach plane crash victim meets boy with daughter's liver

It was a freak accident beyond logic: An engine failed. A plane glided in near silence toward a Venice beach. It flew through the exact spot where a Georgia father and daughter were playing near the shoreline.

Ommy Irizarry, an Army sergeant, heard no warning, leaving him no time to pull his 9-year-old daughter, Oceana, to safety.

Both died from their injuries.

For the past two years, Rebecca Irizarry has been unable to kiss her husband or hug her eldest daughter.

She's worked to accept losing most of her immediate family, but on Saturday she gained a son — rather, a "soul son" in 7-year-old Brandon McNaughton, who is alive because Oceana's liver helps his heart keep beating.

Both Ommy, 36, and Oceana were organ donors.

In January, Brandon's mother couldn't control the compulsion to find the family to whom she owed her son's life. In a Parrish home on Labor Day weekend, the McNaughtons met Rebecca Irizarry and her 8-year-old daughter, Ava — or, as mom Kelsey McNaughton calls them, her son's "soul family."

• • •

A group of the McNaughtons gathered outside the Manatee County house on Saturday morning after driving about three hours from Palm Beach Gardens. Even "Auntie," who is 94, was there — as well as other aunts, uncles and Brandon's father, who he's named after, and his mom.

"Hi, I'm Aunt Sandy," said the woman who opened the door, welcoming Brandon and the close to a dozen others into her home. She's Rebecca's aunt — and it was her former Sarasota summer home the Irizarry family was visiting during the 2014 accident.

Soon, Brandon — "Junior" to his parents — was wrapped in Rebecca's arms. She asked for more than one hug, and the little boy with blond curls obliged with a grin that showed off his missing teeth. Oceana's curls were brown, but her smile and personality just as sweet, said Rebecca Irizarry, 35.

"I feel like she's hugging her daughter," said Kelsey McNaughton, 26. "And I hope that it gives her everything that she wants to feel."

The "soul mothers" look like sisters. Both have blonde hair with bright-colored ends and they swear it's by coincidence. Kelsey McNaughton's two other children, ages 4 and 6, joined Ava and Brandon in instant friendship as they ran around the house and got ready to go swimming.

But not until after Rebecca Irizarry gave out gifts: some of Oceana's stuffed elephant toys, a coin that belonged to Ommy, a picture of Oceana packaged with a cat she made out of beads. Then, the framed piece of paper bearing Oceana's handprints Rebecca said the hospital helped her make before her daughter died.

Kelsey McNaughton called her son over. She asked him to put his hand on top of the glass.

"You're getting there," she said. The imprint Oceana left behind stretched just beyond his fingertips.

• • •

When Brandon jumped into the pool alongside Ava Irizarry, he bared a large scar that hooked around his abdomen. Before his new liver, Brandon was a different boy. He suffered from a rare blood disease. He'd get lesions on his skin that made him itch constantly. It hurt him to even bathe.

A few days before his fifth birthday in late September 2013, the family found out his liver was failing. In July of the next year, they found out a 9-year-old at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg had a liver that was a perfect match for Brandon, who was then being cared for at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

Although a donor's family and the recipient are never told each other's names, Kelsey McNaughton searched news stories on the internet that made her confident Oceana gave her liver to Brandon.

It was a news story that aired in late December about Ommy and Oceana being featured on a Donate Life float at the Rose Bowl that pushed her to find Oceana's family. The TV reporter helped them connect. Rebecca was glad they called.

"This little boy has a piece of my heart," she said. "It makes me proud of my daughter."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Advertisement
Advertisement