Latino Life: Donor Network West Talks About The Gift of Life

A local family made a heart-wrenching decision this month after their little girl was fatally injured in a car accident.

They donated her organs so that others could live. Hanah Salazar's ten-year-old daughter, Francine gave the gift of life.

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An honor walk was held in Francine's honor as she made her way into the operating room to donate her organs.

Hanah Salazar said, "because I wanted to take them ice cream -- I was gonna surprise them, actually. I didn't tell them. There's a four-way stop sign. Then I went to go ahead and proceed. There's a car coming, and it's too late already. The car hit us. After the impact, I wasn't able to move. I was like this. And then finally when I was able to move, I was -- I looked at the back, and I saw my daughter. I can see my daughter's head flapping. It's not stable, so I know there's some, like, injury. So, they pulled her out. And they start CPR. I know that that's what she would have wanted. My daughter is a caring, loving, selfless person. Like, she would help everybody before herself. And by donating her organs, I'm -- It's -- It's like kind of honoring her for her selfless act."

Hospital Announcement: "Francine Hannah Salazar is a bright 10-year-old girl who is a loved -- who is loved immensely and will be missed by all who were blessed to have her and to share her beautiful smile, love for music, art, and dancing. We want to say thank you, Francine, for all the love, the love you shared with the world and the love you leave behind with those receiving your gifts."

Graciela Moreno: Well, joining me now to talk about the importance of organ donation are German Amezcua and Marcella Corona from Donor Network West. Welcome, both of you, to our program. Such a difficult video to watch. And that video that we just saw right now has been viewed by a million people across the country already. So, what can you tell us, first of all, about Francine -- because I know that you were there when this decision was made -- and Francine's family, their decision to donate her organs?

German Amezcua: Like, Hanah -- Mom -- said there, that's something that -- that she would have done. If you would have asked Francine, she would have said 'yes.' Hanah shared with me a picture of her daughter that we saw there on that piece, and it focuses on her face, but she said, "Make sure you look at her shirt." Her shirt says "Make a difference."

Graciela: A beautiful little girl, I'm sure, a beautiful little girl. And her family seemed to know so well that this -- like you said, that this is something that she would have done. So, what was that conversation like with the family?

German: I had the conversation with the family, and Mom's a nurse, a nurse in an ICU at Cedars-Sinai, so she's seen this and has done these kinds of -- this honor walk with adults. So, they knew what situation they were in. They were very realistic. And it's after, you know, the doctors have done everything to try to save a life. That's when organ donation comes up, that's when that conversation comes up, and that's one thing that they knew. They actually requested to speak with somebody about organ donation. Since I was there, I was able to have a conversation with them. I mean, again, that's why we tell people, "Have that conversation." I know it's not a conversation you want to have about death. We don't think about it. But it's part of life.

Graciela: Right, and like you said, she's a registered nurse. She's sadly been through these honor walks before with patients of hers, I'm sure. But how many people -- I mean, what can we tell our audience in terms of how many people are so desperately waiting for these organs, Marcella?

Marcella Corona: Well, we can tell our community that there are over 21,000 people in the state of California waiting currently. And over-indexing the Latino population -- and I think German has those exact numbers for our counties included -- over a few thousand people in our area are awaiting a life-saving transplant. And that's what my work is -- to educate the community so when these tragic situations do happen that the family at least has some knowledge of organ donation and hopefully chooses that in a way to pay Francine's legacy forward.

Marcella: We build partnerships with all of the hospitals, different health centers. We work with the DMVs. I make high-school presentations. We just spoke with a group of interpreters on Saturday, right after this honor walk, because everyone was so moved and wanted to learn more and be able to take that home, not only to their families, but also share in the hospital when they're working with families. That's vital. And Valley Children's -- this was their first honor walk in the history of their hospital.

Graciela: Wow.

Marcella: And it was beautifully done. I was there, present at the beginning of the walk, and it was -- it was -- it was a beautiful send-off for a beautiful little girl.

Graciela: When you see these things, you wonder why people still are so hesitant. What do you think is the reason why a lot of people just have a really hard time letting go of their loved ones, even when they're no longer -- you know, they know that they can't be saved?

German: Because we love them.

Graciela: Mm.

German: We loved our loved ones, and it's hard.

Graciela: Mm-hmm.

German: It's hard to say goodbye. It's hard to let go. But like I said, it's trying to normalize death, which is not something we want.

German: I went through it with a 9-year-old, and it's very tough.

Graciela: Yeah.

German: A very similar accident to Francine's accident, and that goofy boy right there is Sebastian. He saved three lives. I know that Francine was able to save four to five lives.

Graciela: Mm-hmm.

German: So, that's huge.

Graciela: And you said there's a campaign, right, that you have going on, helping people realize that they can save up to eight people, but certainly help even more.

Marcella: And enhance the lives of up to 75 people through tissue donation. And the campaign that we have launched as an organization, Donor Network West, is called Save Eight. And basically it's indicating that the choice is up to you, the audience, the viewer. You have the opportunity, should something bad happen, to make that decision long before, have that conversation with your loved ones, and ensure that you can be like Francine and Sebastian, children who will live on forever. Their legacy is really, really beautiful.

Graciela: So, is there any other worries that families maybe expose to you in terms of -- are they afraid that this is -- is it gonna cost them? What are some of their fears?

German: That's not a fear, but there is no cost.

Graciela: A concern. Right.

German: Yeah, there is no cost for organ donation. Once a family authorizes, our organization is now taking -- covering those costs from beginning to end. So, the family will not see one bill regarding organ donation. That's something that we take care of.

German: There's a lot of myths especially in our Hispanic community...

German: ...'cause, again, like I said, if we talk about death, no va a pasar. It's gonna happen to us.

Graciela: Right.

German: And that's not one thing that we want to think about 'cause it's not -- you know, it's not a happy event. And life is -- is not all roses and rainbows. Accidents happen and they happen every single day.

Graciela: was the case with Francine and with your son.

Marcella: Right. Every single day. And if someone has the mind-set way before that happens to make a decision, that just alleviates so much more from the family. And in the case of Francine's family, she was a child. She can't make that decision. But her mom had the foresight and the love and the generosity to give to a stranger. And hopefully they're children so other children's lives are saved so that they don't have to experience that same difficult (experience).

German: And even if they weren't children that received her gifts, those adults probably have kids, and have been waiting for years. Every day, 22 people -- an average of 22 people die waiting for that gift.

Graciela: Thank you so much, both of you.

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