AKRON, Ohio — It was an emotional meeting, 17 months in the making, that brought an Akron boy and a father from Kansas City to a stage in New York City.
Carson Lenington-Stewart, 11, and Luke Beckett, 26, had never met before they hugged and tears flowed last week at the 2019 Love Gala hosted by DKMS, the international nonprofit dedicated to eradicating blood cancer.
Beckett, who signed up to be a bone marrow donor when he was 19, turned out to be a match for the boy and agreed to a stem cell transplant.
During the ceremony, Carson presented his hero with a card and a special statue with the words "Because of you, I live" engraved on it.
"Thanks for being so amazing. As of December 20, 2017, God allowed you to be part of my life. Now we are brothers forever," Carson wrote in a card.
Carson is a fifth grader at Windermere Elementary in Akron, but he missed more than two years of school.
In 2017, he started to feel very tried and didn't have much of an appetite. The day after his ninth birthday, doctors diagnosed him with anaplastic large cell lymphoma in his lungs.
"We were totally blown away," said his dad, Scotty Stewart. "We didn't think at all that we were going to be touched so close by cancer."
Carson lost his hair and dealt with other difficult side effects. He had six rounds of chemotherapy and beat the cancer, but he got sick again a few months later.
"They called us and said I got cancer again," Carson said.
The boy underwent more chemotherapy and radiation, but the family was told he would need a transplant to live.
"We were terrified," Stewart said.
However, prayers were answered within two weeks when the family was notified that a match was found.
Five years had passed since Beckett had given a check swab to become a potential bone marrow donor, so when he got the "you're a match" call he was surprised.
"I knew that I would do it if I was called, but I don't think that I expected it," Beckett said.
By then, Beckett was married and had recently become a father, but he didn't hesitate to help a total stranger.
"In my mind, the sacrifice that I had to make was nothing compared to somebody that's actually fighting the cancer that needs the transplant," he said. "He beat cancer. It came back and he beat it again. He's the hero. He's an incredible kid."
The transplant took place at Akron Children's Hospital near the end of 2017.
Carson said he's feeling great, loves playing video games and glad to be back in school. He recalled what he said to Beckett during that first special meeting.
"I said, I love you. Thank you so much."
The gift of life story that has forever forged the two families also has one of those full circle of life moments.
Beckett's wife, Shauna, also beat lymphoma when she was a teenager and now she works as a transplant nurse at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
"She is now about 12 years in remission," Beckett said.
Stewart said he felt an instant connection with Beckett as if he had known him all of his life.
"It was just kind of full of emotions. You just wanted to kind of go up and just hug this man that gave your son the gift of life."