Terry and Glenda Broussard were awake much of Saturday night wondering aloud in their Antigonish home what to give to a woman they’d never met.
Sunday was to be the type of occasion where some sort of present would be warranted.
While a gas station-purchased fruit cake suffices for an old friend on New Year’s Day, how do you show your appreciation to a family who has given you your life back?
“It means someday I may get to walk my daughter down the aisle,” Terry told the Chronicle Herald days before the meeting.
How do you thank Donna Nugent for that?
And how do you do it when it is her son’s liver that is keeping you alive?
On Sunday afternoon, Glenda held a Christmas ornament under her arm as Terry and Nugent shared a long hug on a softball field in Trenton.
This field overlooking the crosshatch of narrow roads leading down to the abandoned steel home of a former railcar manufacturer has become sacred ground to those who loved Michael Collier and to those who carry him inside them.
Two weeks ago, Nugent put her head to the chest of a young Mi’kmaq man on this field and heard her son’s heart beating.
Three days later, Glenda sat her husband down before she handed him the newspaper article on the meeting of Eskasoni’s Jacob Basque and Nugent at the Michael Collier Memorial Softball Tournament.
“I now knew who I had been praying for,” Broussard said.
The Hail Mary pass
Collier, 23, died in Halifax in September 2018 as a result of injuries suffered during a car crash on Highway 104 near Alma.
The timelines of Collier’s death and both Basque and Broussard’s transplants matched to the day.
Recipients and donors aren’t supposed to meet each other. Broussard had been allowed one letter of thanks, absent of any details that would identify him, to Nugent.
Broussard had been fighting a nearly two-decade losing battle with his failing liver by September 2018.
Alcohol had never agreed with him. Perhaps that was a sign of what was to come.
It wasn’t until his mid-30s, with three elementary-aged children, that his body began to fail.
It took years of tests amidst declining health before he finally got the diagnosis – autoimmune hepatitis.
In layman’s terms, his body was attacking his own liver.
For all the wonders of how the amazing machines we inhabit keep us wandering this world, Broussard couldn’t reason with his own immune system.
He knew that only the Hail Mary pass of a compatible matching liver becoming available would stave off the end of the life he cherishes.
“But as much as you want to see your kids grow up and grow old with your wife, it’s just as much as you don’t want someone else to miss that,” Broussard said of the agony of what a match meant.
Days to live
Broussard kept working until 2017, found every ounce of life he could to be there for his children as they grew into young adults and sought gratitude for each extra day he had with them.
When he was transferred from St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish to the specialists in Halifax in September 2018, it was with the tacit understanding that he had days, not weeks, to live.
On Sept. 18, as the doctors extracted a buildup of opaque yellowish liquid from around his organs with two large needles, one of them left to take a call on his cellphone.
A match had been found.
It became part of him the next morning.
“You wake up and you’re still getting IVs and you’re still big but you have this unique feeling that whatever is in you that isn’t going your way, now it is,” Broussard said.
“Before, you just felt like you were going down.”
He’s looked at every day since the surgery as a gift.
'To save three people'
A quietly religious man, Broussard has been praying every morning to thank a donor he never knew until Sunday, when Nugent told him about her boy.
As it turned out, it fell to Nugent to explain to Broussard the gift he brought to the ballfield for her.
“His job was to save three people,” Nugent told him after their embrace.
“I believe his job here is done.”
Finding something other than terrible loss from the death of her son was a matter of necessity for Nugent.
In the dugout, she told Broussard how she “had to find the positive” that came from her family’s tragedy and that he, Basque and the unknown recipient of Collier’s pancreas are part of that.
Also part has been Team Momo – friends and family of Collier who have spent the past year raising money for civil service organizations and needy families in his memory.
They’ll continue that work, keeping his memory and spirit alive.
“When I met Jacob I had this peace come over me and feel it here today with you,” Nugent told Broussard.
He replied: “I’m going to look after this gift.”