Dustin Falling came home from work one night and heard voices downstairs. It had been several weeks since his son’s funeral, but the noise coming from his bedroom sounded comfortingly familiar, something he had heard so many nights before. That excitable ruckus that teenage boys tend to make when playing Fortnite.
“It was nice,” Dustin says.
His son’s friends had stopped by, at the family’s invitation, as a way to cope with their grief by being in his room and feeling their connection to Dylan, a Litchfield High athlete who died in a car accident in June.
The loss of a young life brings unimaginable sorrow that no parent should be forced to confront. Dylan was an A student and multisport athlete who suffered brain trauma when the car he was driving pulled into an oncoming vehicle at an intersection. He was 16 and had just completed his sophomore year.
In this darkness, his family keeps finding comfort. There have been revelations of just how good a kid Dylan was. And one simple act by their son continues to impact the lives of so many others.
Dylan was an organ donor. It was a decision he made proudly not long before he died, after his dad underwent a kidney transplant in 2019. The branches of Dylan’s generosity are now far-reaching.
A 68-year-old man received his heart.
A 34-year-old woman received one of his kidneys.
A man in North Dakota received his other kidney.
A woman in California received his liver.
His eyes, bones and tissue also will be donated to recipients, which can aid recovery from traumatic events or common sports injuries.
LifeSource, which handled his organ procurement, estimates that Dylan’s donations saved or healed more than 75 people.
Pause to think about that. Seventy-five people, at a minimum. All because Dylan checked a box on his driver’s license. A LifeSource official described that many lives being impacted by one donor as “remarkable” and “extraordinary.”
His family considers him a superhero.
“I don’t think people always understand the amount of lives you can save [with] just one person,” his dad says. “Make a memorial for yourself before anybody else does and say, ‘I saved all these people.’ ”
The communities of Litchfield, Dassel and Cokato are grieving alongside the Falling family. Dylan was a popular kid, dedicated student and talented athlete. He would have been a goalie on the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato varsity hockey team and a running back on the football squad. He also ran track.
Dustin, a former goalie himself, coached his son growing up. Dylan was starting goalie on a peewee team that went to state. He dreamed of playing in the state tournament at Xcel Energy Center and continuing his hockey career in college.
His memorial service was held at a ballpark in town. The family was still in Minneapolis that day waiting for the organ process to be completed. Dustin spoke to the large gathering of parents and kids over Facebook Live and shared a powerful message: Don’t let this tragedy ruin more lives, he told them.
The family is committed to honoring his memory by lifting others. A GoFundMe page that raised $20,000 will be used to support different causes through a new foundation called “The1Foundation” — Dylan wore No. 1 as a goalie.
Dustin and wife Michelle plan to use their foundation to send kids to summer hockey camps because a Litchfield couple once covered the costs for Dustin to attend camp when he was a kid. They want to buy football cleats for kids who might not be able to afford them, stock local food shelves and create a scholarship at a Catholic school in town. Every cent will be devoted to the community.
Former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway learned of Dylan’s story and donated $5,000 through his foundation to create a scholarship in Dylan’s name. Greenway plans to make that an ongoing gift.
Dylan’s parents and younger sister Morgan, a freshman, still are learning new things about him. They found social media conversations he had with friends who were having a rough day and reached out to Dylan for support. Reading his words comforting friends brightens their day.
They discovered a blog post Dylan had written that focused on overcoming adversity. Not one person who is successful in this world has gone without hardship, he wrote. Litchfield sports teams printed his blog on signs and plan to use his message as a reminder to persevere.
An e-mail arrived in Dustin’s inbox sometime after the funeral. Dylan’s English teacher sent him video of a speech he gave in class.
The assignment required students to pick someone they admire and explain why. Dylan chose his dad. The why part was easy. His dad never missed any of his games and always cleared his schedule to make time for his family despite working long hours as owner of a company. If anyone ever needs a hand, Dad is always there to help, Dylan said.
“It was really nice to hear that,” Dustin says.
The family wants people to hear about Dylan now. To see what they saw, all the things that made him a great young man. And to know about his decision to become an organ donor, a lesson that should make of all us stop and consider.
Dylan said yes to a question, and in the sadness of tragedy he became a superhero. A superhero to his family and to dozens of strangers who only know him by the precious gift he gave them.