A heartbreaking video captures the moment a Naval officer saluted and kissed his baby son goodbye before the infant died from horrific injuries sustained in a car crash.
One-year-old Leopauld Sanchez suffered devastating damage to his spine and brain when he and his family, from Lemoore, California, were involved in a deadly head-on collision, which also claimed the lives of three other people.
The toddler’s skull was detached from his spine but despite undergoing risky surgery and spending nearly three months fighting for his life in hospital, he failed to regain the ability to breathe on his own and doctors told his parents Paul and Ayie Sanchez that he could not be saved.
Devastating: A video captures the heartbreaking moment that a Naval officer said goodbye to his brain-dead son before donating his organs
The final salute: Paul Sanchez, 43, saluted his son Leopauld as he was wheeled off by nurses
Farewell: Leopauld’s mother Ayie couldn’t contain her emotion as she kissed her son goodbye
Together, Navy officer Paul, 43, and his wife, 39, made the selfless decision to donate his organs to strangers – including two babies.
In a moving video captured by the couple, Paul and Ayie are seen saying goodbye to their little hero before he was taken into the surgery to remove his organs, with Navyman Paul standing out of his wheelchair to give his son a salute.
Leopauld’s heart was given to a six-month-old boy in San Diego, his liver to a three-month-old girl from Stanford, and his kidneys were donated to an adult from San Francisco.
Accident: The youngster sustained injuries to his brain and spine in a car wreck that also claimed the lives of three other people
Paul said: ‘Leopauld lived a short life, but in that short period he was able to lead a wonderful life full of sharing, love and miracles.
‘When he was still in the hospital, we kept on praying about miracles for him but now we realize that the miracle was right in front of us, which is him,
‘He himself is the miracle that gives hope for the three lives that can continue on and live, and it’s wonderful.
‘I will keep talking about him and share the wonderful miracle story, and to raise awareness of organ donations.’
The family was travelling back to their home from seeing friends on November 15, 2020, and were only 20 miles away when they crashed.
A driver travelling in the other direction swerved into their lane resulting in a head-on collision with their minivan, they said.
Paul, Ayie and children Neopaulus, eight, and Shapriana, five, were left left disoriented and with minor injuries, but Leopauld was unresponsive.
Other drivers pulled over to help, including a pediatric nurse who performed CPR until the emergency services arrived around ten minutes later.
Leopauld and Neopaulus were airlifted to hospital, while his parents and sister followed in an ambulance.
The toddler’s skull was detached from his spine, his brain had been damaged, and he even flatlined on arrival at the hospital but doctors managed to revive him.
Brave: Leopauld spent three months fighting for his life in hospital, before doctors told his devastated parents that he was brain dead and would never wake up
Selfless: The little boy’s parents made the brave decision to donate his organs so that other people’s lives could be saved
Tribute: ‘Leopauld lived a short life, but in that short period he was able to lead a wonderful life full of sharing, love and miracles,’ his father Paul said
Honoring his legacy: Leopauld’s family came together at the hospital to say goodbye to the little boy
Paul said: ‘We can’t imagine his suffering and we couldn’t even think of our own physical injuries at the time.
‘It was all emotional pain – we kept praying for miracles for him.’
The doctors warned Paul that his son would likely not survive, and needed intensive surgery to reattach his skull which most hospitals would not attempt.
Paul said: ‘While were still in the hospital after our surgeries they called a family meeting, and we had to be wheeled their in our hospital beds.
‘The doctors told us that Leopauld’s injuries were so severe that he might not survive and there was nothing we could do.
‘They said he might not be able to breathe on his own or walk again.
‘They kept asking us if we wanted to let him go in peace and pull the plug, but we said no, we weren’t going to give up on our babies and we still believe in miracles.’
The rest of the family were out of hospital after a month, but Leopauld was so fragile he could have died just by being moved.
After weeks of agonizing waiting, Paul was told that the Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera would perform the surgery.
He was carefully transferred in late November and after his surgery, the little boy started to show signs of improvement.
Paul said: ‘My wife was always there with him, every day, and saw that he was able to open his eyes and move them and make facial expressions, like crying, but with no sound.
‘A respiratory therapist said he was showing sings that he was breathing on his own, so they started to gradually take him off the ventilator.
‘We were happy that this was the miracle we were praying for.’
Siblings: The little boy was brother to a brother, Neopaulus, eight, and a sister, Shapriana, five
Awful: The entire Sanchez family were injured in the November 2020 crash, which happened when a driver in another lane swerved and hit their minivan head-on
Hero: Leopauld’s heart was given to a six-month-old boy in San Diego, his liver to a three-month-old girl from Stanford, and his kidneys were donated to an adult from San Francisco
Looking ahead: The Sanchez family hope to one day meet the people whose lives were saved by their son’s organs
However, Leopauld’s health quickly declined, his heart rate and blood pressure were fluctuating rapidly and he was having problems digesting food.
A brain scan showed there was fluid on Leopauld’s brain, and the Sanchez family were called in to the hospital.
The doctors said Leopauld was brain dead and could not recover, on January 15.
The Sanchez family were given some time with their son in privacy, and a social worker approached the grieving parents to ask them if they were open to organ donation.
Paul recalled: ‘He said there was a possibility your son could save eight lives, and before he even asked me, without hesitation I told him I would be saying yes.
‘He lived a short life but knowing a part of him would be living in someone else would be another miracle.’
Hospital staff worked tirelessly to find suitable recipients for Leopauld’s organs.
Leopauld was taken into the operating room to have his vital organs removed on January 18, after a final weekend with his family by his side.
Paul kissed his son’s forehead and stood up out of his wheelchair to give him a salute as he went.
He told him he was proud of him and that he was a hero.
Medics flew from San Diego to collect the heart, and surgeons with Leopauld discussed the transplant with the waiting surgeons via video link.
The Sanchez family are looking forward to meeting the recipients in person one day.
Paul said that police are still investigating what caused the collision near Kettleman City, but that neither the driver or two passengers in the other car survived.
You can donate towards the Sanchez family’s medical and burial costs at their GoFundMe page.