In the midst of tragedy, sorrow can turn to hope and a terrible loss can become a gift – all through organ donation. During National Donate Life Month this April, South Texas Health System is paying tribute to the selfless sacrifices that have granted others a second chance at life.
On Thursday, April 13, South Texas Health System Edinburg hosted a Celebration of Life event in partnership with the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance (TOSA), Texas Donor Network, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center and the San Antonio Eye Bank. The special event included the participation of two families who’ve been on opposite sides of the death and life transaction that is organ donation.
Living On Through Organ Donation
Among the family members was Genevieve Vargas, who found herself on the giving end of the donation process after her daughter, 18-year-old daughter Alysha Renee Garza, died on June 24, 2020. Just as she was entering adulthood, Garza died tragically from a gunshot wound to the head. She was rushed to South Texas Health System Children’s and then transported to South Texas Health System McAllen where she was pronounced dead.
When approached about donating her daughter’s organs at the time, Vargas wasn’t comfortable with the idea of organ donation, but she remembered her daughter had explicitly expressed her wish to donate her organs if something were to happen to her. With her daughter’s wishes in mind, Vargas signed off on the donation, and, in total, her daughter was able to donate six organs to five people:
A 41-year-old man who received her right kidney
A 43-year-old man who received her left kidney and pancreas
A 46-year-old man who received her liver
A 40-year-old woman who received the heart
A 70-year-old man who received her right lung
“I have peace in knowing that she’s still living on through other people and she helped other people have a life,” Vargas said. “I want people to know that out of our tragedy, yes my daughter was murdered, but we helped people and it can be a miracle.” Now, she and her husband are planning to follow in Garza’s footsteps by registering to become donors themselves. “To our family, she’s basically a hero for helping other people,” Vargas said.
The Gift of Time
Also speaking on Wednesday was Jessica Flores, the mother of 15-year-old Logan Flores, who received a kidney transplant at just 18 months old. Flores was born on February 23, 2008 and about a month later, his parents learned he had kidney failure. He spent the next 13 months on dialysis for about 12 to 16 hours each day. He eventually received the kidney transplant on September 4, 2009 at a hospital in Corpus Christi from a 19-year-old donor. “It’s given him the gift of time,” said his mother, Jessica Flores. “Without his kidney, I don’t think he’d still be alive right now.”
Initially told to expect the kidney to last about 10 to 15 years, Flores said her son’s kidney is still going strong. She noted the importance of organ donations as thousands of people continue to wait for a match. “There are people in all sorts of situations, those who are older but then also those who are born with issues, and without those donations, they’re not able to make it,” Flores said. “Without those organs, they’re not able to continue. Waiting for an organ is really, really hard. Sometimes their bodies give out before they can get that donation.”
More than 100,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants on any given day in the United States. About 85% of those individuals are waiting for a kidney and 11% need a liver, according to Donate Life America. In 2022, there were about 42,000 organ transplants from 21,300 donors.
STHS Edinburg raised the Donate Life flag in tribute to those donors who made life possible for thousands around the country, including those in the STHS family. “My little nephew is alive because of a live donor bone marrow transplant,” said Josh Lamb, Chief Operating Officer for STHS Edinburg and STHS Children’s. “He had leukemia and aplastic anemia, so this is pretty special to me as well.”
“I would just like thank everybody who’s been here – all of our partners, all of our clinical teams that make this happen and especially our donors and our donor families. They are the ones who are really impacting the lives of others out there who potentially would not be alive today without their generous donations,” Lamb said. “South Texas Health System is very proud to be a part of this, very proud to help work to better our communities, to keep them healthy and to keep them on that path.”
Texas Organ Sharing Alliance continues to encourage people to register as organ donors which can be done by visiting DonateLifeTexas.org. “Our mission is to sign up as many people to become organ donors because it is a very important mission,” said Sarah Salas, Communications Coordinator for TOSA. “We want to get as many people registered so they can end up being heroes one day.”