Before Maddilynn "Maddi" Boultinghouse went to be with God, she gave her heart to another little girl.
Maddi's mom, Hope Blake, also was seriously injured in the July 30 accident in Rock Island that led to 4-year-old Maddi's death. In the 12 days that have passed since they were hit by a car as they crossed a street near their home, Blake said, "We have literally been watching God's plan unfold."
Maddi's dad, Alex Boultinghouse, said his grief is being made bearable by his little girl's final gift: her healthy organs.
Sitting in their Rock Island home among poster boards, covered in pictures of Maddi displayed at her weekend funeral, the couple talked about the child who was the center of their universe.
"We took walks all the time — at least every other day," Blake began, telling the story of how she and Maddi were hurt. "We went to Walgreens (at 11th Street and 31st Avenue) for toys and some school supplies. We were going for ice cream shakes at McDonald's.
"I saw the light (at the intersection) was red and I wasn't expecting traffic. There were a couple of SUVs, so I didn't have a clear view. We stepped out from behind a Tahoe."
The impact threw mother and child in different directions.
"I screamed for her," Blake said, tears rising in her eyes. "I wanted to get up and go to her, but they were all telling me not to move."
Blake's pelvis and spine were fractured, and she sustained head and other injuries. Maddi's injuries were catastrophic.
But God's plan already was in motion, Blake said.
"An ER (emergency room) doctor happened to be at the McDonald's," she said. "Maddilynn had no pulse and she wasn't breathing. He put a breathing tube in and did CPR. I could see the doctor working on her. I wanted to go to her."
She asked emergency responders to contact her dad at the Rock Island Arsenal because he works in the same department as Maddi's dad, and she knew they both would be notified.
Boultinghouse said an Arsenal police officer went to his department, told him there had been an accident and drove him by squad car to Trinity Rock Island. Within 30 minutes of her arrival, Maddi was loaded onto a medical helicopter and flown to O.S.F. St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Her mom was transported there by ambulance.
"I didn't get to see her at all that day," Blake said.
Boultinghouse stayed at their little girl's side.
"We were watching for any sign of reflexes," he said. "Her blood pressure would go up at the sound of our voices, and that was a good sign. They didn't want her to wake up, so they put her in a coma."
In many head-injury cases, the skull is opened to create space for a swollen brain. But Maddi had also sustained a neck injury, so that procedure was ruled out.
On Saturday, Aug. 2, a priest from the family's church, St. Pius X in Rock Island, baptized Maddi at her bedside. Late in the day, the prognosis was delivered: Maddi was not going to make it.
"We were getting ready to take her off the breathing tube and let her go," Boultinghouse said.
But God's plan was not finished.
"She was a universal donor, meaning her blood type is O negative and matches with anyone," Blake said. "When they mentioned that she might be able to save others, we knew that was something she would love to do. We figured she was already gone and there was nothing we could do to bring her back."
Maddi's parents smile easily at the memory of her spirit. She was, above all, a social creature.
"If you were standing near her, you can be assured you would be her friend," her mom said. "She introduced herself like this: 'Hi, I'm Maddilynn Boultinghouse, and I live in a blue house.' You fell in love with her the minute you met her.
"She would say hello to people at church by their first names, and I didn't know them."
Added her dad, "She was very loving. She just had this character to her. She could have been anything she wanted."
One of the things she wanted to do was help people. When she got her first haircut the week before the accident, Maddi was delighted to donate her hair to an organization that makes wigs for people who lose their hair to chemotherapy.
After the accident, she got to do more.
"We didn't want to see her go down to the operating room, so we said our goodbyes and we came home," Blake said. "That was the hardest thing, coming in here without her. We bought this house just before she was born, so she's always been here with us."
The 24-year-old, who has been fitted with a back brace and walker as her fractures heal, pointed to a door off the living room.
"That's Maddi's room, and we've only been in a couple of times," she said. "We're kind of saving it. When things get really bad, we can go and lay down on her bed and look at how she had her Barbie dolls arranged.
"Since I've been home, I've been using her cups and sleeping with her little animals that she called her 'babies.' "
For Boultinghouse, the house is too quiet. Maddi brought loud life to their home, always running and singing.
"I've found grocery shopping the hardest thing so far," he said. "It's just hard to see all her favorite things and not reach for them."
On the day they picked out the dress for Maddi's burial, other families were shopping for school clothes. That hurt.
But these days of deep sadness are not without moments of peace.
"The doctor said a lot of parents can't see past the grief to go through with organ donation," Blake said. "When we got the word that she wasn't going to make it, we were all so devastated. When we started talking about donating, I felt this peace."
As they learned more about the recipients, more comfort came.
"Her heart went to a 5-year-old girl, and her liver is with a 7-year-old boy," Boultinghouse said. "A 53-year-old woman has her kidneys. We know there were six recipients in all.
"It helps a lot, an awful lot. Maddi would love that she got to do this. But for me, I get great comfort in knowing another family won't have to go through this."
Blake said she wonders what one other person is going through — the driver of the car that struck them.
"I don't even know for sure if it was a man or a woman, but I was told it was a woman," she said. "We've been told she hasn't contacted us, because she's been advised not to, in case we file a lawsuit. We don't want anything. We don't want to make her feel bad.
"It was an accident, and it was my fault, too. I don't blame her, and I don't feel hatred in my heart. It just feels like it would help a little to hear her say, 'I'm sorry it happened.' We don't want her to feel guilt. I don't want to live with guilt, either.
"It was something God had happen that day. Maddi got that first haircut and she'd just gotten her ears pierced. That doctor happened to be there, so we got to have that time with her.
"She had a lot of firsts the summer she passed away. She's with God. She's in the best place she can be, and we'll be able to go be with her one day.
"I know I haven't really hit that grief point. But Maddi got to be a hero. That's where my comfort comes from now, knowing how much she would love that she got to be somebody's hero."