McALLEN — A single Christmas tree, lightly decorated with white and silver ornaments, wrapped with light blue ribbons and white Christmas lights, topped with a glittery silver star stood in the middle of a bustling La Plaza Mall. Surrounding the tree were the families of recently deceased organ donors, who were creating custom-made ornaments to honor their lost loved ones.
The children and toddlers, some of who were offspring of the deceased, were having a blast filling the ornaments with artificial snowflakes and decorating the outside of the crystal clear orbs. All the while, the parents, grandparents and event runners helped them out as they mingled over coffee and chocolate chip cookies provided by Donate Life Texas.
The celebration is part of a partnership with Simon Malls and Donate Life Texas. La Plaza Mall welcomed the organization in their mission to have more people register as organ donors in order to save lives in the future.
One participant was Alondra Cantu, whose sister, Mayde, died of an aneurysm in April of last year. She was accompanied by her mom, Flor Cantu, and was surrounded by children of the family. The Cantu family hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting any of Mayde’s organ recipients, but Alondra mentioned one who will receive Mayde’s heart.
“We are in contact with the (recipient of) the heart,” Alondra said. “He’s having some procedures done, so that’s what causing us not to be able to meet him yet. As soon as he’s done with all procedures, he said by latest March, we can get to meet him.”
When asked if she was ever against her daughter’s decision to be an organ donor, Flor Cantu said she did the right thing.
“I was never against the decision to donate her organs,” Flor said in Spanish. “Because you’re giving life to other people after we’re not around. Right now I feel proud of my daughter, I’ve always been proud of her, but even more so now because she made the right decision.”
One of the toughest issues recipients face after receiving an organ donation is the guilt they feel for continuing to live. They understand that the only reason they get to go on in their lives is due to the fact someone died.
This is something Sylvia and Gabriel Espinoza fight against as advocates of organ donations.
“It’s kind of hard for them because they feel guilty that their loved one had to die for them,” Sylvia said. “As for us, I wanted to meet who they were… I told my husband we need to write a letter to them and tell them not to feel guilty because this is our son’s decisions. He wanted to give the gift of life to somebody.”
The Espinoza family became advocates after their youngest son, Jeramie Espinoza, was pronounced brain dead after a head-on collision occurred during his ride back from South Padre Island in Spring Break 2003.
Out of the five people in the vehicle during the accident, Jeramie was the only one who didn’t make it back home. Though, because of his decision to donate, he was able to extend the lives of five others.
Even in the busy hallways of La Plaza Mall, with passersby looking on with slight curiosity, the evening wrapped with a bittersweet moment as the donor’s families went up one by one to hang their ornaments.
The Christmas tree, finally fully decorated, is to stay up for the remainder of the holiday season. Each ornament representing a lost loved one as a way to keep their memory alive, just as their donations do so for those who are thankful for receiving the gift of life.
If you would like to register to become an organ donor, you can visit DonateLifeTexas.org, the Texas Department of Public Safety or Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.