A Family Celebrates Through Tears at Donate Life Flag Raising Ceremony

April 9th, 2018

Trying to describe the heartache of losing her daughter, Cassandra “Cassie” Contreras, to injuries suffered in a car accident in June, Emily Avila made it only a sentence or two into her prepared remarks at the Donate Life flag ceremony Monday at JPS before she was overcome with emotion and couldn’t continue.

Emily Avila, center, receives a hug from Lee Ann Franklin

Emily Avila, center, receives a hug from Lee Ann Franklin

Instead, Cassie’s cousin, Jimmy Britton, took Emily’s script and shared the story of a 17-year-old girl who loved to dance and to spend her free time with friends at Whataburger so much that she planned to have her high school senior photos taken there. While she undeniably had a free-spirited side, Cassie was also so mature and caring that when she went to get her driver’s license, she was adamant she wanted to sign up as an organ donor to help others in case anything ever happened to her.

“There was no hesitation in saying yes” Britton said of the moment when Cassie reached the questions on her driver’s license forms concerning whether she wanted to donate her organs. He also fought a losing battle against tears as he read Emily’s words, but continued on.

A few days after a fateful accident on Interstate 30 as she returned from a trip to Six Flags with friends, Cassie donated her heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, Jimmy said, saving the lives of five people. Emily has already met the recipient of her daughter’s heart who recently celebrated her 40th birthday thanks to Cassie’s gift of life. She has also communicated with the person who got Cassie’s lungs, a father of three who now has the opportunity to see his children grow up, and plans to meet him in person later.

JPS President and CEO Robert Earley said he hoped the fact Cassie helped save other lives was comforting to her family.

“It gives us perspective on life,” Earley said to Emily, adding he also has a 17-year-old daughter who is signed up to be an organ donor. “It’s sobering… but inspiring. Thank you for what your sweet daughter did.”

JPS chaplain Lee Ann Franklin, director of pastoral care and ethics, called the flag raising ceremony the “tender intersection of death and new life, loss and new hope.” She said in the face of unspeakable tragedy, organ donation gives accident victims and their families the opportunity to rewrite the last chapter of a loved one’s history, changing a sad ending to one of renewed optimism and life.

Cassie’s family members admitted they wondered for a moment if they made the right decision when they gave the go ahead for her organs to be harvested. But when Emily called Cassie’s father to discuss the issue on her daughter’s phone, one of songs Cassie liked to listen to, “I Give Myself Away” by William McDowell began to play. Emily believes that was a sign from Cassie that her wishes were carried out.

The Donate Life flag that was raised Monday will fly for 24 hours and then will be presented to Cassie’s family as a reminder that the young woman whose life was cut short lives on in the people whose lives she saved.

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