Javier Nuñez was a big man with a big heart — as big as all outdoors. “He cared a lot about his family and friends and helped them any way he could,” his younger sister, Angie Merryman, recalls. “Many times he helped me with my college expenses. But he preferred to go unnoticed for the good he did.”
He also loved the outdoors, especially cycling. “He biked to work in Chicago every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow,” Angie says.
Tragically, Javier was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver at the stunningly young age of 37. “At the time, they attributed it to having a fatty liver, which is very common among Hispanics,” says Angie. “My aunt on my mother’s side passed away from liver disease. I was told Javier had a 50 percent chance of surviving three months. It was devastating for our family.”
However, Angie, her parents and her four brothers and sisters rallied around Javier, working tirelessly to keep him well enough to be considered for a liver transplant. Finally, 10 months later, in December 2010, he was placed on the transplant waiting list. “But we could tell Javier was becoming much sicker,” Angie says. “He ended up in the ICU, hanging on to life.”
On Javier’s 39th birthday, doctors were notified of a matching donor. But just four days later, joy turned to tragedy when Javier died of a massive brain hemorrhage.
“It was tremendously heartbreaking, of course,” says Angie. “But knowing he had registered as an organ donor, my father immediately asked, ‘Can any of his organs be donated?’ This is how we found comfort during this difficult time.”
Ultimately, Javier’s corneas were recovered and transplanted, and his tissue gifts have been used in 46 procedures. Even in death, Javier’s giving nature endured.
“I kept my brother’s driver’s license, and when I look at it I think of the quick signature, the few keystrokes it takes to register as a donor,” says Angie. “Those simple actions are tremendously powerful and carry so much meaning, not only to the individual, but to all those who love and care for that person. They mean a miracle. They mean hope.”
Tragically, hope was lost for Angie and Javier’s mother, who was diagnosed with cirrhosis the same month Javier died in 2011. While on the waiting list for a liver transplant, his mother died of end-stage liver disease on March 8 of this year. “The statistics say 18 people die every day waiting for a transplant,” Angie says. “Last month my mother became one of those statistics.”