A Second Chance at Life Inspired Duston Hayward’s Heart

On Jan. 14, 2015, as Duston Hayward rode his bicycle to work in San Diego, an 18-wheeler took a right on red and wiped him out. It was a hit that could have killed him, yet Hayward managed to crawl away from the accident with fractures to his ribs, pelvis and wrist.

Hayward is a computer scientist by profession and is currently working as a systems engineer. He missed three months of work completely, and then it took another two months to get back to it full time and resume most of his normal activities. “There are still some things that I don’t do. Like I don’t commute to work on bicycle anymore,” he said.

The accident shocked his heart out of rhythm—but managed to change it forever. He said his brush with mortality made him thankful for each day, and gave him a more positive outlook on life. He started to advise friends and family not to sweat the small stuff, and managed to have deep, meaningful conversations with his youngest son, who was a senior in high school at the time of the accident, about how to change perspective on negative feelings and events. “I really started to become thankful for what was going on. Thankful for being alive and really changing to have an even more positive outlook on life than I had before,” Hayward said.

He was further inspired by a woman he saw on TV who had been in an accident a decade before, who wanted to replace her negative memory of that day with a positive one, so she ran a marathon. He started an annual 5K walk he called Celebrate Life’s Beauty as a fundraiser. The first year, around the holidays in 2015, Hayward and his friends and family—about 50 people in all—raised $2,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, which supports people with disabilities who want to participate in sports. For the second and third year, the walk raised money for the Butterfly Effect.

Hayward learned about the Butterfly Effect from his wife, Brenda, and son, Parker, who were connected to the Wahl family through the kids’ school. He decided he wanted to be part of the micro-philanthropy movement that counts on generosity being contagious locally and around the world.

“It was a perfect match. I had never really met Tasha before, and when I told her what I was doing, she wanted to be part of it. When she told me what she was doing, I wanted to be part of it,” he said. “I liked the concept of the Butterfly Drops. I liked the concept of the butterfly walls.”

Hayward would go on to organize six Butterfly Drops and a butterfly stencil mural inside the Embassy Suites in downtown in San Diego. The drops supported causes such as Gordon College’s (Mass.) baseball team and the Princess Project, which provides prom dresses to girls who can’t afford to buy them.

Hayward said he’d always thought about giving back, perhaps after he’d retired, but his accident shifted his priorities. “I started to search out people who inspire people in general,” he said. “I’m continuing to search for that and continuing to spread the word of how wonderful life is. I did not have that complete appreciation before, so it really has woken me up. I really believe that I’ve had a second chance, I’m on my second life, because the odds are I should have been dead that day.”