ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Almost seven years ago, Jaime Muñoz was diagnosed with lung disease and was told he had a year to live.
On Saturday, he stood before more than a hundred people to tell of the lung transplant that saved his life.
Muñoz thanked organ donors and their families at a special celebration at the University of New Mexico. The event, titled “Gift of a Lifetime,” and hosted by New Mexico Donor Services, was a tribute for the families of those whose deaths saved lives.
Muñoz, a married father of two, was in his early 30s when he received the bleak diagnosis. For years, he struggled as his health deteriorated, watching from a distance as his children grew up before his eyes.
When his lung capacity reached 17 percent, his doctors decided it was time to get on a transplant list, Muñoz said. Within months, he got the call that a pair of lungs was available in Denver, where he wound up receiving the successful transplant.
“Thirteen months ago yesterday, this hero of mine gave me a second chance at life. Not only did he save my life, he saved my family’s life,” Muñoz said, his voice cracking.
For Georgia Martinez, organ donation meant her 18-year-old son would live through others.
Patrick died a slow and painful death in 2009, not long after being diagnosed with toxic leukoencephalopathy, a rare and incurable disease that dissolves the white matter of the brain like acid. Doctors believe Patrick got the disease from smoking heroin.
As a child, Patrick had been a recipient of organ donation himself. He had been diagnosed with a rare bone disorder that required numerous surgeries in which parts of his bones were replaced with donor bones.
During a trip to get his driver’s license, Patrick told his mom he wanted to be an organ donor.
“That was real important for him. It wasn’t just something he said,” Martinez said.
When Patrick died, six people lived.
His heart went to a 12-year-old boy in California; a teenager got his lungs. Two Albuquerque women each got one of his kidneys, and a California man received his liver. His intestines saved a 15-year-old boy in Pennsylvania.
“It just gives me a lot of peace to know that my son lives on through these other people,” Martinez said.
Martinez said it was her goal to get more people signed up to be donors.
There are currently 743 New Mexicans on an organ transplant list, said state Department of Health Secretary Dr. Catherine Torres. There are also 1 million registered organ donors, she said.
Torres called that “one of the greatest things that I’m proud of in New Mexico.”
Still, about half of the 100,000 people on transplants lists around the country will die before they receive an organ. In New Mexico, only kidney transplants are performed, otherwise patients must travel out of state.
At the Saturday event, Torres took the stage not only to dispense those facts, but to thank the families on a personal level. Her father, who has since died, received a liver transplant in 1975. He went the rest of his life too embarrassed to reach out and thank his donor’s family, Torres said.
“He felt horrible that someone died that day for him to live,” Torres said. “Today, we stand in honor of those families and the donors.”
To be an organ donor, register at www.nmdonor.org.