Imagine this, your 15-month-old is diagnosed with something you’ve never heard of before. He can’t walk, sit up, crawl and isn’t reaching the usual milestones children his age do. His life is completely changed. The only thing that will save him is a stranger saying ‘YES’ on behalf of their child to give him the ultimate gift. This is the experience Alma Rodriguez went through alongside her family in 2008 when her son, Christopher, was diagnosed with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. As the 15-month-old was wheeled down what seemed like the longest hospital hallway they had ever experienced, his life was changed forever when he left the operating room after his heart transplant. All because of a selfless act and gift from another little boy’s family. By saying ‘YES’ to organ donation on what we can only imagine would be the hardest day of their life, they decided to give the ultimate gift to a complete stranger. Now, Christopher is able to be a “normal teenager.” Play soccer, participate in the everyday things we take for granted and most importantly, he was given the gift of time to be with his family.
Arlett is a widow and mother of one. Her son, Fabian, is her miracle baby and the light of her life. She was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age 7, and kidney failure in 2012 when Fabian was still very young. Arlett was placed on the transplant waiting list for a kidney in 2013, and received her gift of life in 2015. While this gift has extended her time with her son, she is now back in kidney failure and in need of another lifesaving transplant. She is joined on the waiting list by more than 100,000 others around the country in desperate need of a transplant. Today, Fabian is a handsome, bright young man. He takes care of his mom as she performs at-home dialysis every night. Arlett bravely faces each day with determination and positivity. It is her mission in life to spend as much time as possible with Fabian and be here to continue watching him grow into the kind, compassionate person he is.
Traci Trout had a smile that lit up the room and a kind soul treasured by everyone around her. She loved being a preschool teacher and a mother to two beautiful daughters. Her hugs made even the worst day feel perfect and she always put others before herself. She spent five years bravely battling cancer – a war that tragically took her life at 53. The way she made others feel and the depth of her compassion will never be forgotten. She always talked about feeling sorrow for the kids who were sick in the hospital because they should never be in that situation. Traci prayed that she would endure all the pain, sadness and fear to spare her daughters from experiencing what she had. She made those around her feel loved and special even on days when she felt her worst. Traci’s legacy lives on through her cornea donation. Traci made the gift of sight possible for two women in Egypt. Her daughters consider Traci the strongest woman they know and will continue to shine her light in their own lives. They know she is up above bringing smiles and laughter to children in heaven, just as she did while here on Earth. She is loved and remembered forever.
Hunter Weiss was born on June 30, 1997 right after his twin brother and spent 41 days in the NICU where he developed his “fighter” personality. Even with that outer shell, he always had a good heart. He was passionate about everything. As he got older, his artistic side started, but he was always modest. His focus shifted to music and he pursued a career in it. He always had his headphones on and volume up. Traveling was something that also became a goal of his. Europe was his destination of choice. His endless fascination and constant research of how things worked was powerful. If you needed it, he always had a hug and a smile for you. His passion for music truly began when he fell in love with Illenium. He watched him rise from nothing to become a star. He even cried at times when he realized how popular he became! His motto was a line from his song, “Beautiful Creatures.” It’s simple, “…We are all beautiful creatures,” because he believed we all were. Hunter truly loved his family and friends (especially his twin brother) and would do anything for them. He was a beautiful creature!
Haylee Ponte of Sparks, Nevada was an active and vibrant young woman. She loved to ski, dance and travel with family and friends. She was an altruist and volunteered her time for a charity event in Reno, called “Moms on the Run,” benefiting local people affected by breast cancer. She even spent time volunteering at a Northern Nevada hospital. Haylee excelled academically as a biochemistry student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) as she studied to become a physician. “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough,” was Haylee’s favorite quote. But her hopes and dreams were sadly taken away when she died in 2015 as a result of an acute asthma attack. She was only 19. Even in their grief, her parents Nancy and David were considering organ, eye and tissue donation before learning Haylee had already registered as a donor through the Nevada DMV. Knowing their daughter was registered comforted them, but was not a complete surprise given how generous they knew she was in life. Haylee saved three lives through organ donation and healed many others with donated tissues. Haylee was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree posthumously from UNR. The certificate is proudly displayed in her parents’ home. Haylee’s mother Nancy was instrumental in helping Nevada’s Senate Bill 112 pass, which requires organ, eye and tissue donation education be taught in public junior high and high schools around the state. Nancy shares often that she is not sure where Haylee learned about donation, but she is so proud that she did and made the decision to register.
Ryan Molina was born in 2005 in Pahrump, NV. At eight months old, he was diagnosed with asthma. It broke his mother Carmen’s heart when his asthma would flair up because he was still so young. Ryan loved to play, dance and sing. He was always happy. When he smiled his nose would crinkle and turn to one side. He loved nature so much that he would say his favorite days were spent hiking with his family. He loved helping his dad with the chickens, watering the garden and working hard around their house. Ryan enjoyed going to school. All of his kindergarten classmates adored him. As the years went by, his asthma got worse and he would spend several days every month in the hospital waiting for his breathing to return to normal. On Monday, April 2, 2012, Ryan had a severe asthma attack and was kept on life support for a week. His parents spent this time praying and hoping that this was just a bad dream. They didn’t want to believe he was gone. They were told, “There's nothing else we can do to save him.” On April 6, 2012, Carlos and Carmen decided to donate Ryan’s organs. He gave the gift of life to many, including a one-year old in Washington State with only days to live (who received his heart). A 12-year-old boy in California received Ryan's liver, kidneys, pancreas and intestine. Because of their courageous decision to donate, Ryan's legacy lives on through the lives he saved.
19-year-old Angel Velasquez was a Captain in the Metro Police Explorer Program and tragically lost his life after a hit and run accident in August of 2013. His donated tissues enhanced the lives of more than 30 people. Just a year later, the Velasquez family experienced another tragic loss when Angel’s older sister, Jackie, a 22-year-old Army veteran lost her battle with cancer. Jackie’s corneas provided the gift of sight to two people. Angel and Jackie’s mother, Marivel, continues to share her children’s stories to ensure others know their legacies live on through the gifts they gave to others.
Natalia Castellani, my wife of ten years lost her heroic four year battle with cancer in August of 2021 at the age of 42. Her calm demeanor, strength and kindness towards everyone that surrounded her will be an inspiration to all who knew her. Natalia was an English teacher then homemaker who married her husband after immigrating to the United States from Russia. She had a unique ability to see beauty in the world around her. Her smile brought joy to so many who were lucky enough to cross her path. Her loss will be irreplaceable in our lives, but through the donation of her corneas her kindness will live on, giving sight to someone and changing their life for the better.