ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - The St. Lucie County Tax Collector has seen a steady rise in the number of people signing up to be organ donors over the last three years.
Chris Craft says the number of organ donors is up nearly 10 percent, and he is giving the credit to one St. Lucie County teenager who signed up to be an organ donor and saved at least three lives.
Christian Medina was killed in a car crash on his way to school at Lincoln Park Academy in October of 2013.
Shortly after the crash, the tax collectors office created the ‘Tree of Life’ to honor Medina. When someone signs up to be an organ donor, they can write their name on a leaf or other decoration to place onto the mural.
“The story that we’re telling people at the counter everyday is Christian’s story. We’re talking about the fact that he saved three lives, the fact that they, too, could do that,” Craft said.
Olvin Henriquez received Medina’s kidney.
Henriquez was fighting an illness in the hospital, where he met Perla Bolanos and her daughter, Kassandra.
Kassandra was going through dialysis for her own kidney disease.
Bolanos says Henriquez became as close as family to her.
“That brought us together as a family because that becomes your family, the people you go to treatment with,” Bolanos said. “I love him like my son.”
They waited years for Henriquez to move to the top of a donor list.
The new kidney has changed his life, Bolanos said.
“To see him with a kidney, it’s like the world’s his oyster now. It’s like he has so much energy,” Bolanos said.
Bolanos knows Henriquez’ second chance at life came at the loss of another family.
She says she had heard about Medina’s story before she realized Henriquez received one of his kidneys.
Bolanos has had the privilege of meeting Medina’s mother, whom she’s forever grateful for.
“I'm so glad she decided to honor his wishes and do what Christian wanted,” Bolanos said.
What Christian wanted was to be an organ donor. Craft says Medina signed up to be an organ donor, even though his parents did not.
After he died, his mother, Madeline, did sign up to be an organ donor in honor of him.
Bolanos' journey with organ donations is not over.
She has donated one of her kidneys to her daughter. “Mom gave me my first one and I was very grateful for that,” Kassandra said.
“That lasted nine years. She got a second one, but that also failed,” Bolanos said.
Kassandra has been on a donor list, awaiting a third kidney, for nearly seven years, she says.
Ultimately, she knows an organ donor will be her life saver.
“I tell my friends to go be an organ donor, even if you can’t save my life,” Kassandra said.
You can learn more about becoming an organ donor here.
Kassandra also has a GoFundMe page to pay for transportation to and from the hospital.