Just as the Abbate family sat down to dinner one evening, the telephone rang. It was the phone call that all parents fear: their son had been in an automobile accident. The events that followed became the factual basis for the 2011 film: The 5th Quarter.
The Abbates hurriedly drove to the area of town where a new subdivision was under construction, but were stopped at the entrance by the police.
“I need to be with my son in there,” Steven Abbate shouted at the officers. When told to wait for someone to explain the situation, he wouldn’t stand still. Steven ran through the woods and around the blockade to see the crash site for himself.
There he was shocked to see an overturned and heavily-damaged car. A fireman told him that his son had been airlifted to an Atlanta hospital.
Luke, the youngest of four children to Maryanne and Steven Abbate, had accepted a ride home with his lacrosse teammates. The driver, an upperclassman, liked to drive fast over the hills to scare his passengers. This time, however, the driver lost control and the car flew off a 70-foot embankment. Luke was the most seriously injured of all the passengers.
The family rushed to the hospital where they saw their young son barely alive, connected to life support systems. Twenty-hours later, they received the terrible news.
“It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that in the morning you kissed your son goodbye – a healthy, happy, vibrant teenager – and by nightfall you’re in the intensive care unit of a hospital and your child is brain dead,” Maryanne recounted later in TV interviews. “You realize how fragile life really is.”
Hundreds of miles away in Maryland, Casey, a 21-year-old mother with a heart condition, was sick. Her name had been put on the transplant list months ago, but her rare blood type of B-negative was making it difficult to find a compatible donor.
Back in Atlanta, the Abbate family was politely approached by the organ donation team to consider donating Luke’s organs. At first the brothers objected, but the family remembered Luke’s wishes.
“It’s hard to think about other people when you are in the darkest places of your life,” said Maryanne, “but we decided to donate his organs because it seemed to be the right thing to do. When I took Luke to get his learner’s permit, he asked what it meant to be an organ donor. After I told him, he said ‘Yeah, I want to do that.’ Luke was a very generous spirit and liked to help people.”
Thinking about other people when you are in the darkest places of your life – isn’t that part of our Lenten journey? Isn’t that what Jesus the Christ did as he carried and stumbled under his heavy cross in the crowded streets of Jerusalem? Isn’t that what Jesus Our Savior did when he was crucified, died for our sins and rose from the dead?
Luke Abbate’s short life and donations became inspirations for others. His older brother Jon, a middle linebacker for Wake Forest University’s football team, changed his jersey number to Luke’s favorite #5 to honor his little brother.
Then at the beginning of the 4th quarter, Jon turned to his parents in the stands and raised his hands with all five fingers outstretched. It was his way of using memories of Luke as motivation to play hard to the end of the game. Jon’s teammates joined him in raising their hands. Pretty soon, people throughout the entire stadium were raising their hands. The 4th quarter for Wake Forest became the 5th quarter in honor of Luke and the team’s “secret weapon.”
Maryanne said that when people raised their hands at the start of the 4th quarter, it was “a tribute to the power of love, a love that is transforming.”
This gesture proved to be motivation for the entire team and helped the Deacons through their best season ever, which culminated in winning the 2006 ACC Championship.
The family wants Luke’s memory to continue to be a positive inspiration to many more people. They formed The Luke Abbate 5th Quarter Foundation in order to help raise awareness among teenagers and parents about:
- The life-and-death consequences of teenage driving.
- The life-saving gift of organ donation.
Recently, the Abbates met Casey, the recipient of Luke’s heart through the organ donation program. Luke, you see, also had the rare B-negative blood type.
In a moment that Steven will always remember, Casey allowed him to lean his head on her chest so that he could hear and feel his son’s heart, now beating in the body of a 21-year-old mother of a young girl.
“What greater gift can you give in your own passing than the gift of life?” says Steven Abbate.
I agree. I hope you will join me in signing the organ donor area on the back of your Tennessee driver’s license. Then you too can stand, raise your hand, think of Luke and help other people live healthier lives.