AP NEWS

Lung transplant recipient gives back

May 5, 2017 GMT

Every month is “Donate Life Month” for Mark Rodriguez.

While April is designated “Donate Life Month” by the nonprofit group Donate Life America, which helps promote the importance of organ donation, Rodriguez is using the first week of May to do his part to help out. He is organizing a 5-kilometer “Donate Life” charity walk at Santa Fe High School’s track complex on Saturday at 9 a.m. that will raise money for two causes near and dear to his heart.

The first is to help fund scholarships the school’s Class of 1987, of which Rodriguez is a graduate, offers every 10 years for a Santa Fe High male and female student. The other prong to the run is to attract donations for New Mexico Donor Services, a nonprofit organization that operates a variety of aspects regarding organ donation.

For Rodriguez, having the opportunity to help his graduation class and people affected by organ donors and recipients go hand in hand. He wouldn’t be alive to help with fundraising efforts if not for double lung transplants he received in 2011 and 2015.

Because of them, Rodriguez could volunteer to help the class raise money as it prepared for its upcoming reunion.

“I proposed this idea to have a ‘Donate Life’ walk,” Rodriguez said. “I have a good relationship with [New Mexico Donor Services], I do a lot for them, as far as speaking engagements and commercials and stuff. I proposed the idea to the director [of the reunion committee], and she thought it was a great idea.”

Rodriguez suffered from silicosis fibrosis, caused by years of breathing in sharp dust particles from his work as a stone cutter. His first transplant was a success, but he needed a second one in 2015 when a blood clot in his lungs went undiagnosed for three months. He spent months waiting for a new pair of lungs, and said he was hours away from death when the transplant happened.

“I’m always stressing how important organ donation is and how when you decide to be an organ donor, you will someday be somebody’s hero, their angel,” Rodriguez said. “Not only will you save a life, but somebody’s family. The opportunities that I’ve had in my second and even third chance at life, I jump at every time because, without organ donation, I wouldn’t have extra time or these opportunities to make a difference in the world.”

It allowed Rodriguez to help out as an assistant coach for Capital’s boys soccer program for the past two years as well as the girls basketball program under Dale Lucero for the past three seasons. Rodriguez said he received great support from Santa Fe High principal Carl Marano and New Mexico Donor Services director Maria Sanders in coordinating the event.

Rodriguez said participants don’t have to complete the full 5K distance, because the important part is to help raise money for both causes.

As for the scholarships, Rodriguez said the amount will not be known until the event’s completion, but he felt combining the fundraising for both causes would help boost the scholarship fund.

“We tried to raise as much as we can so that [the amount] can be bigger for both recipients,” Rodriguez said. “I thought to myself, ’What better way to take two things I am passionate about — awareness for organ donation and helping kids — and put them together. It would be two worthy causes.”

Registration for the event will happen at the complex, Rodriguez said, as a way to keep costs down so that more money could be generated for the scholarship fund and for New Mexico Donor Services.