Garden of Hope

AO’s Gift of Life serves to honor our local Donor Heros as well as our Recipients.

At our 2nd & 3rd Annual Walk/Run, we honored the following Donors and Recipients.

Eric Aofia

Eric Michael Aofia, also known as AO, was one of the most selfless individuals that made this world a better place. Husband, son, brother, uncle, godfather, nephew, cousin, son in law, brother in law, and friend were many of the roles he loved fulfilling; little did he know, being a hero would be his last. On September 1st, 2015, at the young age of 29, he selflessly gave a second chance at life to 5 people through donating 6 of his organs and another to research. All 5 recipients reside in Dallas, Texas a place where Eric’s heart always was, being a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. Eric’s decision to donate not only saved the lives of those 5 people, but continues to impact others through AO’s Gift Of Life. 

On January 2nd, 2017, Eric was selected as an honoree on the Donate Life Float in the Rose Parade held in Pasadena, California. As we watched his floragraph, the floragraphs of several other deceased donors, and living recipients float down Colorado Avenue brought wonderful emotions to all his family. It was a beautiful way to honor him and the lives that are impacted by the beauty of organ donation. We will forever be so proud of him for the love he shared with everyone he knew. He taught us the biggest life lesson: Listen to your heart! 

Benjamin Lopez Sr.

Was born in Durango, Mexico on March 31, 1946. He was the youngest of a family of six. Ever since he was a child he showed a strong will and dedication to whatever he set his mind to. 

He was forced to start working at a very young age to help out his parents. He met his wife, Sara Lopez, in Juarez, Mexico and got married in 1971. From the start he put a great deal of effort to provide all the necessary things for them to start a family. They had four children; Miriam, Benjamin Jr., Ruth, and Joel. 

He was a very hard working person who always cared about his family that he brought them to El Paso, in order for his children to go to university, which they all graduated, and have a better future. He taught his kids to never give up, to always care for everyone around them, and to strive to fulfill their dreams. 

Unfortunately, because of the tough life he had during his childhood to adulthood he started to have health issues. Which eventually took his life away when he was 67 years old. In his honor, his family decided to donate his organs to help other people because that is the man he always was. He was able to donate his skin, corneas, kidneys, and the bone marrow. 

He is greatly missed, we think about him every day and want to thank him for everything he did for us. Although we miss him dearly, we are so proud of the gift of life he gave to his recipients.  

Daniel Saenz

July 9, 2014 was the day we were told our dad had 6 months to a year to live with stage 4 cancer. Our hearts were broken instantly. August 18, 2014 we made the trip to Dallas, TX to begin the transplant process. We were told he was a candidate for a liver transplant. While in Dallas our dad had a procedure to try and contain the cancer from spreading. This procedure worked and again on November 17th 2014 he had the sam procedure done on the other tumor. Through this process of waiting we would get updates on his position on the list and his name moving up. April 26, 2014 we got the call from our mom to tell us they had a liver for our dad. We were all very happy and emotional. The surgery was scheduled for the following day and it would take 8-10 hours. Thankfully the surgery was a success and his body didn’t reject it. The 3 year mark is near and he has been doing great! We could not picture our lives without our dad and we are very blessed to be able to see him get that second chance.

Lucia

Lucia was born on 2010, and at 9 weeks-old she was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia, a disease that severely damaged her liver.

Shortly before she turned 6 months, she was put in the transplant list.  In the spring of 2011 she received her liver transplant.

Unfortunately, the split liver she had received started creating blood clots, which did not allow for proper blood flow. The only solution on sight was to put her on the transplant waiting list, again.

Exactly one week after her first transplant, Lucia was back in the operating room, receiving the gift of life. She worked her way up to recovery, until finally in the summer of 2011, she came back home. Lucia was 8 months-old.

Lucia just celebrated her 6th anniversary after transplant. And even her post-transplant journey has had its ups and downs, we know that her biggest and most difficult battle is already behind her.

She is just a happy girl. Even when she is sick, she is enjoying life. Lucia loves to play with her dogs, cook, go to the park and spend time with her family. She is caring and compassionate. She often talks about becoming a “transplant” doctor, so she can help a lot of kids that are sick. She also would like to be a chef, so she can cook a lot of desserts…. and eat them all. 

Lucia is non-stop, she has so many ideas and plans on things she wants to try and create, that we constantly have to tell her to slow down, to sit, to wait, to learn to be patient. Those are all great “problems” to have. 

Lucia is fully aware that she is an organ recipient. Since she turned 3, she started asking questions about her scar. At that point, it was so normal for her that she would ask everybody “where is your transplant scar?” With time, she realized not everybody had a transplant and she felt special. She refers to her liver donor as “her friend on heaven”. It was hard for her to realize her friend is not alive anymore, because she really wanted to play with him. She is not shy at all to talk about her transplant and we know that as she grows up, she will be a great advocate to raise awareness on the importance and impact of organ donation.

Eddie Vargas

My son was cute as a baby, as he grow he gave me precious moments that I'll have in my heart forever. 
 

As a teen I never had a complain about him, he was the greatest son, the best friend and the best brother. 

As a basketball player, Eddy was a rarity at El Paso High School. "El Grande." He was one of the school's tallest students, and he was talented enough to earn a varsity spot as a freshman. Eddy was big on the court, but his caring personality stood taller.
 

A Philadelphia 76ers fan, He dreamed of playing at the University of North Carolina and making it to the NBA. 
 

Eddy was born in El Paso and lived with his grandparents here at El Paso, was known to give some of his clothes and toys to the children of our neighborhood in Juárez.

"He had a very big heart. He liked to help people. 

My son was a good kid in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
 

Eddy suffered a fatal head injury when he was assaulted, by teenage gang members in Juárez City around the corner from our home there. He was hit near the eyebrow, with the butt of a gun. He fell, struck his head and was knocked unconscious.
 

He died of head injuries three days later. He was declared brain dead. 

Two weeks before all this happened Eddy was watching the Denzel Washington movie "John Q" about a father fighting for a heart transplant for his son.My husband asked Eddy what he thought about it, and he said he would like to be a donor. 

To heard this from my healthy and young son was hilarious, I felt angry with my husband for ask that to Eddy. We didn’t know anything about organs donation.

My husband and I were asked on that terrible day if we would consider donating some of Eddy's organs, we didn't hesitate. We didn't need to speak about it, because we know what Eddy's wanted. 
 

Four of Eddy’s organs -- his heart, liver and two kidneys -- were donated and saved the lives of four Texans.
 

I weep for my son who should never have died so young, but I applaud his spirit. And I cry tears of joy for the people who live because of him. 
 

Although his life was cut short, I believe Eddy's spirit live on in those people, as well as in the people who knew and loved him. To loss a child it's the hardest thing you could go through, but we look forward to another day, knowing we have each other, a wonderful daughter, to kiss each day and a son in heaven, we will see again, someday.

I never felt anger against" the attackers, When Eddy was born, the nurse told me, 'This boy will be somebody special.' I have always remembered that and now I understand."  
 

We know God has a plan for all of us. We will never know why we lost Eddy. We just have to believe God knew what He is doing. We miss Eddy everyday.

Maile Rae

Maile Rae is our hero and a warrior. Maile was diagnosed in May 2015 with brain cancer at 26 years old. Throughout her battle, she always remained positive. She went through all the treatments while continuing to work at her favorite job at Planet Fitness and worked out every day. By her side, has always been her twin sister, Kali. Maile lost her battle in January 2017. In life, Maile was kind and giving. She has continued giving, even now. Maile will live on through the lives of four people she has given a second chance at life by organ donation.

Carmen A. Ramirez-Salazar

Carmen A. Ramirez-Salazar, aka “Alex” passed away on Friday, January 9, 2015 at Sierra Medical Center in El Paso, Texas at the age of 33. A resident of El Paso, Texas she is survived by her loving husband Richard Salazar Jr., their daughter Alessandra Amada Ramirez-Salazar, step children Nathan Salazar, Sasini Salazar, Avani Salazar, mother Martha Valdez, brother Angel Ramirez, niece Natalia Ramirez and sister Georgina Ramirez. Alex was a highly respected Family Nurse Practitioner in the El Paso Community. She earned her Master’s degree in Nursing, with Honors, from the University of Texas at El Paso. She was employed with Envision Home Health & Hospice, Gastroenterology Specialists of El Paso, and with EMcare serving the Tenet Emergency Departments. Not only was she an intelligent and bright woman, but also wonderful mother, step-mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to everyone she met. A powerful, selfless, young soul with endless amounts of love to give. She truly lived every day as if it were her last, and continues to impact others after her passing through her gift of life.

Carmen donated her corneas, skin, and organs to her recipients.

Edna Rodriguez

In 2002 our family learned the meaning of organ transplant and what it truly means to a family. My mother had been diagnosed a few years earlier with Hepatitis C. She had had a blood transfusion 20 years earlier and the silent disease had been dormant. Until it affected her liver and quickly gave her liver failure. She was put on a transplant list and quickly rose to the number one spot.

We really were not familiar with transplants and had not learned about the process. Like most families, we never thought we had to go through it, as it was something we saw on tv or heard about through the news.

My mother went to San Antonio via a life support plane when we were called. She was quickly prepped and prepared for surgery. Unfortunately, that first liver was cancerous and the wait continued. Within a week, we were told a new liver became available. The only thing we were told was that it was from a young man who had been in a car accident. We learned how a life had to be lost to save a life. We prayed and grieved for his family and thanked them for the most Unselfish gift of life. I reached out to them a year later but never heard back from them. I pray they somehow know what there selfless act did for my family and others. 

My mother has been a successful transplant recipient for 16 years. She has met 7 great grandchildren in that time.  

A transplant is a gift, a miracle that needs to be talked about and shared. Education and true life stories need to be heard.

These silent heroes, the donors, need to be praised and mentioned. Their stories have to be shared. They lost their lives but live on by those who received the gift of life because of a brave family’s decision to donate organs at a moment of sadness and distress.

I always thought as long as your drivers’ license is signed, you are a donor. However, we need to let our love ones know our wishes. Our families ultimately have that decision. They need to be aware should they ever have to make a choice. Voicing we want to be donors lets them know it’s ok at a moment of grief to share the gift of life.

Thank you to those who have shared… words cannot express the difference their choice has made! 

Jewel Reign Sanchez

Jewel Reign Sanchez was born February 15, 2018 at 1:45 am in Carlsbad, NM. She was 5lbs and 17 ½ inches long, Jewel was born with a chromosome issue called Trisomy 13. Doctors told us she would be still born or possibly only live hours after birth, baby Jewel was a fighter and gave us 6 weeks to love on her and make beautiful memories. Baby Jewel passed away peacefully in our arms on March 30, 2018 and although her life was short lived, she was able to give the gift of life to two other babies and donated two of her heart valves. It brings great comfort to our family knowing that Jewel was placed on this earth for a reason and she will live on through her donation. 

Matt Blanchard

Matt Blanchard passed away on December 23rd, 2012 at Jersey City Medical Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. Matt was out for a night of fun with his wife and friends when he very suddenly passed away from a heart disease which he was unaware he had. Matt served in the Marines and completed 2 tours in Iraq. After completing his tours and being stationed in Okinawa Japan and Camp Lejeune North Carolina, he came home to New Jersey and bought a house and got married to his loving wife while pursuing a degree in Information Technology and working full time. Matt had an amazing soul and was always happy, we would describe him as a “simple man”; he would give anyone the shirt off his back and was always making others laugh. Matt loved fishing, watching the New York Giants and anything related to the US Marines Corps. Matt is survived by his wife, his mother and father, his grandparents, 2 brothers, many cousins and countless friends. He is missed dearly. Given Matt’s selfless nature he was able to donate his organs, eyes and skin tissue and continue to help others like he always did. 

Vicente Ordonez Jr. "Juni"

Vicente Ordonez Jr. “Juni” was only 19 years old when he passed on April 4, 1985. Days earlier, the immediate family Mother: Josefina Coss and Sisters: Maggie, Martha & Marcela, (father: Vicente Ordonez had passed away 7 years earlier from a tragic car accident) were notified that Juni had suffered a tragic construction-site fall/accident. They immediately flew from El Paso to Dallas to be by his side. Unfortunately, the brain trauma was too severe to recover from, so the doctors presented them with the devastating news and posed the possibility of donating his organs. His mother did not hesitate to respond “yes”. Even the doctors were taken aback by her quick response, but Juni had always made it clear of his intentions to donate his organs. Because of Juni’s clear desire, his mother was able to make that selfless decision to honor her only son’s wishes and bless others. The death of anyone is difficult, but the death of one’s child is unfathomable. She found solace and comfort knowing that she was doing exactly what her son wanted and blessing others by answering their long-awaited prayers of receiving a renewed chance at life with Juni’s organs.

Juni never got the chance to marry, start a family, or make it into adulthood, but his heart continued to miraculously beat insides a 35-year-old recipient. His generous spirit kept giving and also granted the wishes of other recipients. Although his young and vibrant life was cut short, he left behind so many beautiful memories. He was a great only son, brother, nephew, cousin, friend, and uncle, and most importantly, a generous and giving soul. Juni was loved by many and remembered with great fondness. He loved listening to rock, had a great sense of humor, and a passion for fun.

His death breathed life into so many others. He is still missed today, but his story is a precious reminder of the incredible circle of life. May we honor his, and other donors’ spirits, legacy, and generosity by also choosing to donate. Life is precious, so give the greatest gift of all – LIFE! 

Sharing your story

Our participants were deeply impacted by these stories and we would like to continue sharing new stories every year. If you are a donor or recipient and/or know someone willing to share their story, we would love to honor you/them. Please email the story so that we can continue to inspire others on the true gift of life organ, eye and tissue donation is.