Woman's decision an inspiration
Minorities encouraged to donate organs
By Shelly Williams
CORPUS CHRISTI — Denise Garcia’s family said the 28-year-old was selfless even in death.
A liver transplant might have saved her life, but she never got on the waiting list, her family said. Even if she had, she would have been among 10,000 Texans waiting for a transplant.
In death, she helped four of those people.
“She could have been bitter, but unbeknown to us, she signed the form on her own and never told us,” said her mother, Cora Garcia.
Today is National Minority Donor Day, which stresses the importance of organ donations by minorities. Of the more than 10,000 Texans awaiting organs, 8,000 of them need kidneys, according to the Southwest Transplant Alliance. Of those needing transplants, 51 percent are Hispanic and 24 percent are black, according to alliance statistics. But when it comes to donating organs in death, Hispanics make up 31 percent of donors and blacks 15 percent.
Getting more minority donations is important because the odds of success with a transplant increase when donors and recipients can be matched by ethnicity or race, said Pam Silvestri, public affairs director of the Southwest Transplant Alliance.
Garcia’s heart and lungs went to a 51-year-old woman, while her kidneys went to a 54-year-old man and 47-year-old woman. Her pancreas went to a 57-year-old man.
Garcia’s family was surprised when a doctor told them their daughter had registered to be an organ donor. They didn’t think it was something she had wanted.
But she left no doubt.
Garcia was told she had about six months to live because of cirrhosis of the liver, which her doctors told her parents likely came from prolonged use of over-the-counter medication for a back injury. Not long after that diagnosis in January, Garcia, who died July 4, filled out the paperwork to become an organ donor.
Her mother said when she and her husband, Hector, thought about how their daughter lived her life, it made sense.
“She’s got a very big heart,” Cora said.
Melissa Rodriguez remembers how her younger sister used to bring home pregnant, stray dogs. At one point, the family had 21 dogs in the house.
In junior high the tomboyish teen protected people who were being picked on, her mother said. She also remembers the time her daughter helped a friend overcome shyness by entering a talent show as partners.
“She didn’t see you as this high society person or poor person,” her mother said. “She just saw you as you were. She saw good in everybody. And that also got her into a lot of trouble, I’m sure, because she just trusted everybody.”
Sandra Trevino said she always knew her niece, who survived date rape and saw a friend shot, was meant for something much bigger. Helping others, even after death, was that something more, she said.
Garcia’s mom remembers how even when very ill, making others happy was on Garcia’s mind. On the way back from a biopsy in Houston, Garcia, barely able to walk after the procedure, did something special for her dad. In a long-running family joke, her dad always requested duck dipped in wine for dinner, so when Garcia saw duck on the menu of the restaurant they stopped at on the way back, she got some to go.
She almost hopped out of the car in her excitement to give it to him, her mother said.
As Garcia became worse, she had headaches and vomiting. She tried to get on the transplant list, but her parents said the paperwork kept being rejected. When they raised questions, they learned it was missing the information that could have gotten her on the list, her family said.
Garcia knew her odds and also knew what her parents had gone through in planning a funeral for her older brother. She planned her own service.
And she brought home organ donation materials and started talking about it. But no one realized she had made the decision.
“She thought that nothing was going to be salvaged, that she was too sick,” her aunt said. “But she did it. I just truly feel that this was what she was meant to do,” Trevino said.
You can become an organ donor by enrolling at the nearest Department of Public Safety when driver’s licenses are renewed.
You can enroll at the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles when cars are registered.
Or visit donevidatexas.org ordonatelifetexas.org.