McALLEN — Rosa De Leon stood before a memorial created to honor organ donors; her hand caressing a framed photo of her son, Elliott, at The Forum.
This is where a ceremony was held Saturday to honor organ donors, their families and recipients.
Elliott was only 7 years old when — over a matter of months — he became ill and was placed on life support. Saturday’s ceremony came just a day after the fourth anniversary of his death.
Still, when De Leon learned at the event that one of the persons who received an organ from her son was another young boy from Texas, she was comforted in knowing that the decision she and her family made helped someone else live.
Thanks to the transplant, the recipient was able to return home in time for Christmas, and De Leon now plans on getting in touch with the family one day.
While Elliott may have been too young to have a complete understanding of the process, his mother affirms it was what they needed to do and that her son wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“We encourage everyone to sign up and save lives … (so in the case) they pass away, the family isn’t burdened by that decision on the worst day of their life,” said Michelle Segovia, director of communications for the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance.
The nonprofit group, which is headquartered throughout the state, organizes the annual memorial to thank donors’ families.
Established in 1975, TOSA has helped 30,000 people receive organs every year, both posthumously and from the living.
Dubbed Messages in the Sky, this year’s ceremony included the release of eight bouquets of balloons by organ recipients. Each bouquet was made up of seven white balloons and one blue, which represents the lives one donor can save.
The balloons were attached with messages written to the local donors who helped sustain new life with the withering of their own.
Also at the ceremony, Shantel Garza, a 12-year-old liver recipient through TOSA, performed an original song that detailed her second chance at life, devotion to God and how blessed she feels to have the opportunity to continue making memories with her brothers, friends and puppies.
This is when many were seen blotting teary eyes. Such scenes are common at the memorial ceremonies, and a testament to the alliance’s efforts to honor donors and connect them with recipients.
Segovia said the dedicated team at TOSA also serves as family service coordinators who “spend all the time that the family needs.”
De Leon agreed, calling the organizers “very sweet and supportive at the moment.”
She now imagines her son “taking care of flowers and gardens” in heaven, as gardening is what he enjoyed most and would even share the fruits of his labor with their neighbors, going door to door with baskets full of his harvest.
Giving and sharing are what made Elliott unique. Two months before his death, he cut his hair and donated it to a worthy cause.
“It’s okay if they’re teasing me,” De Leon recalled Elliott saying, remarking about how he was mocked by other kids for growing his hair long. “I know why I’m doing it.”
TOSA encourages loved ones of organ donors to reach out to the alliance and share their story. They can also connect with members who can help provide comfort through the healing process.
For anyone interested in registering to become an organ donor, visit tosa1.org or donatelifetexas.org.