Courtesy of UCSF
Alfonso Garcia still carries around a baseball cap that belonged to a 22-year-old man who passed away in 2010 having never met him. But the cap is just a small token of an even bigger reminder that the 18-year-old college freshman carries with him every day: the man’s liver, which saved Garcia’s life.
Since receiving the liver transplant at UC San Francisco, Garcia has made it a mission to spread the word about the value of organ donation by sharing the memory of his hero, George Becker, who died after a bad sinus infection spread to his brain.
Years later, Garcia still “thinks about George every day,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted.”
As part of that mission, Garcia was selected by UCSF and the California Transplant Donor Network to ride on the Donate Life “Journeys of the Heart” float at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 1., in honor of Becker.
The float carried a florograph of Becker – a portrait made of flowers.
Garcia – whose father, Oscar Garcia, is a respiratory therapist at UCSF – was 15 years old when he was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder in which too much copper accumulates in the body’s tissues, causing damage to the liver and nervous system. His health was deteriorating quickly and he needed a liver transplant immediately.
Becker, who signed up to be an organ donor on his driver’s license when he was 16, ended up being the right match. And Garcia’s UCSF medical team – which included transplant surgeon Ryutaro Hirose, MD; Philip Rosenthal, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Liver Transplant Program; Emily Perito, MD, a clinical fellow in pediatrics and gastroenterology; and nurse practitioner Susan Diaz, MSN – performed a successful transplant.
“It’s something that I appreciate and hold very close to my heart, the people at UCSF,” said Garcia, now a healthy, strong young man who just started attending the University of San Francisco. “Growing up, seeing my dad go to work every day, I didn’t know the significance of that until the day I was under the care of UCSF. I was like, ‘Wow, these people do an incredible job day in and day out to care for people and save people’s lives.’”
Since his transplant, Garcia’s family has forged a deep connection with Becker’s mother, Connie Mays, and they’ve teamed up to spread the word about organ donation, including walking together at a recent Donate Life Walk fundraiser. Garcia also has appeared before California legislators to speak about donation education in high school curriculum and was asked to toss out the first pitch for the San Francisco Giants on Donate Life Day in 2011.