Donors attending the second annual Outlive Yourself Awards at the Belo Mansion raised almost $200,000 Nov. 3 for Taylor’s Gift, a foundation dedicated to helping families touched by organ donation.
The foundation is named in honor of Taylor Storch, a 13-year-old Coppell native who died in a tragic 2010 skiing accident. Though doctors could not save her, they were able to save three lives and help two others thanks to Taylor’s decision to become an organ donor. Her parents, Todd and Tara, founded the foundation not only to help raise awareness for organ donation, but also to provide emotional and financial support to organ donor families.
Co-chairing this year’s awards with Saryn and Jonathan Dietz were Preston Hollow residents Shaley and Javier Espinosa.
It’s been almost nine years since Javier woke up with a case of mono. The SMU senior was about to turn 22. Graduation was two months away and he was already making plans for post-college life.
“I thought, ‘I’m just going to sweat this out.” Javier said. “I was ready to get the year over with and look for a job.”
His mother came to visit, and was a little more concerned. Not only was Javier sick, he was becoming jaundiced, his skin to taking on an orange hue. She was concerned that there might be a problem with his liver.
Tests at Presbyterian Hospital confirmed the worst: Javier’s numbers were off the chart. He consulted with his personal physician, and soon found himself in the Methodist Hospital emergency room. The doctor there took one look at him and said he needed a liver transplant.
“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I didn’t even know what that was. I thought it was something out of science fiction.”
Javier’s memories after that are hazy. His grave condition had started affecting his mind. Javier’s next clear memory is waking up in a hospital room. He laughed at the “it’s a boy” balloons a friend had put in the room as a joke. Other than a pain in his stomach, he felt fine. Then he saw the incision on his chest that he said resembled a Mercedes logo.
“I was confused, and asking ‘What happened?’”
Doctors later told him that he was mere hours from death. They had passed on the first available liver in hopes of finding a better fit. A second one became available just in time. The surgery took six hours.
Javier’s body would later start to reject the new organ, an experience he said was worse than the surgery itself.
“It felt like ants walking under my skin. It was terrifying,” he said.
Still, Javier was determined to get his life back to normal. He managed to graduate school on time with the help of a walker.
He also resolved to win back Shaley, his high school sweetheart. The two had drifted apart when they went to different colleges. However, their families had remained close. When Javier got ill, Shaley rushed to Dallas to be by his side. They were married two years later, and today have two daughters.
“After the transplant, many things became very real to me,” Javier said. “I really appreciate time and the importance of maximizing the time you have.”
As he has had more time to reflect over the years, Javier finds himself thinking more about what donor families go through. Helping them is what made him want to become more involved with Taylor’s Gift.
“Donor families are really a forgotten group, even though organ donation has become such an important way to combat diseases and so many problems,” Javier said.
Javier does not know who his donor was. He has written two thank you notes, but has never received a response. He said time makes him appreciate their generosity more and more, but it’s emotional to think about and hard to put into words.
“Would I want to know? Yes. But am I ready now? Probably not.”
Javier may never know why his illness became so severe so quickly. What he does know is that he would not be alive without the generosity of an organ donor. He hopes it’s a message more people will remember.
“It’s incredible how big this program has become,” he said. “It’s a very honest and transparent cause.”