Young father's sudden death becomes opportunity to save other lives

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- For families faced with suddenly losing a loved one, giving the gift of life not only provides hope to those awaiting transplants, but can also ease the pain of a life that ended much too soon.

"Alex was my best friend. He was my soul mate," said Courtnee Porter of Mayfair.

For 13 years, Courtnee and Alex Anaya were inseparable. The two met at 15 and 16 years, and fell in love immediately.

"His laughter was contagious. His smile, I mean, big, beautiful smile, was contagious," Courtnee remembers fondly. "He loved to cook. He loved to be around his family, loved to be outside."

Despite long absences as a truck driver, he'd always made time for his young family.

"If he had to stop in New York, and he could pass by for an hour, he'd do it," said Courtnee.

Without warning last year, after a day with his family at the park and going for ice cream, a blood vessel in Alex's brain burst.

"He said his head hurt really bad," she recalled.

Soon, he was unconscious. Doctors at Jefferson University Hospital said Alex had suffered a brain aneurysm, a massive brain injury with no hope of recovery.

Courtnee was four months pregnant at the time.

When the Gift of Life approached the family about organ donation, Courtnee says the choice was easy.

"There was no hesitation that we wanted to move forward with it," she said. She's sure it's what Alex would have wanted.

"Alex's father actually passed away in 2015 and he was waiting for a liver transplant. So donation for us, I mean, it was kind of sentimental," she said. "If he had had an organ donation, there's a possibility he would still be here today."

Unlike most organ donors, Alex wasn't brain dead. Removing life support would stop - and damage - his organs.

So, Alex's heart was put on a new device pumping nutrients and oxygen-rich blood through it and he became the Gift of Life's first heart donor through Donation After Circulatory Death, or DCD.

"It's estimated that DCD hearts could provide 25% more hearts available for those patients on the waiting list," said Richard Hasz, Director of Clinical Services at the Gift of Life Donor Program.

The DCD process has already boosted the number of kidney, liver, and pancreas donations by a similar amount.

Ultimately, Alex's organs saved five other lives, a story Courtnee shares with her son and baby daughter.

"He has a legacy on earth. His organs are still here, and he was a hero," she said.

To become an organ donor, you can check off the box for "organ donor" for your driver's license, or you can register at Gift of Life, or OrganDonor.gov.
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