Edinburg teen who died by suicide inspired family to become organ donors

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Andrew Peralez, seen here in this undated photo, died by suicide at the age of 17 in 2013. He became an organ donor and his family’s decision to donate his organs saved three other lives. (Courtesy of the Peralez family)

Andrew Peralez was, as his mom described him, an excellent son, student and friend who often gave back to his community and church.

It is his kindness and generosity that she continues to remember as she keeps her son’s memory alive.

“He was a very giving person,” Yolanda Peralez, Andrew’s mom, said softly on Thursday.

For Yolanda, 52, organ donation was never in the cards for her until her son chose to sign up.

She recalled the day he went to fill out the paperwork for his driver’s license, which was also when Andrew decided to officially become an organ donor.

Yolanda explained that she respected his decision but never thought his time would come so soon.

In 2013, at just 17 years old, Andrew took his own life. The grief-stricken family from Edinburg didn’t immediately think about him donating his organs at the time, but their decision eventually ended up being one that gave life to others.

Yolanda said it was a tough decision for her and her family to make, but in the end choosing to donate Andrew’s organs saved three lives.

“As parents, we become very selfish and we don’t want to give away any part of their bodies but we completed his wishes and we’re glad that we did because he was a very giving person,” Yolanda explained.

Andrew donated his two kidneys and liver, giving three people another chance at life. Knowing her son was able to return these individuals to their families brings her comfort.

Andrew Peralez, seen here in this undated photo, died by suicide at the age of 17 in 2013. He became an organ donor and his family’s decision to donate his organs saved three other lives. (Courtesy of the Peralez family)

“His legacy continues, his life continues through those people who received his organs,” Yolanda said. “I as a parent am very proud of him for making that decision (becoming an organ donor).”

Because of Andrew, she and her family have since become organ donors as well.

She now continues to advocate and encourage others to sign up for organ donation because for her, becoming a donor could mean giving someone more time with their family and loved ones.

“I know that from where he is right now, that he is very happy and grateful that we supported him and that we made sure that … out of one body, we were able to save three lives,” Yolanda said with certainty in her voice.

It is donors like Andrew that DHR Health hoped to honor during National Donor Day, which was observed Wednesday together with the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance. They unveiled a stained glass creation titled “Gift of Life.”

The artwork was created by Yolanda Cantu, a local artist who hoped to pay tribute to both living and deceased organ donors through the figures displayed in her work, including a cardinal which represents the presence of angels, a frog symbolizing renewal, a butterfly symbolizing change and hope, and a dove to symbolize love and peace.

“I hope when someone looks at it they will get a sense of peace and calmness,” Cantu said in a DHR Health news release. “I hope it makes people think and reflect.”

The stained glass work, which took over 300 hours to create, measures 9 feet by 5 feet and consists of more than 8,000 hand-cut pieces.

According to DHR Health, the artwork was funded by employees who donated in “commemoration of the hospital’s 20th anniversary in 2023.”

“It is with great gratitude that DHR Health unveils this beautiful artwork, emphasizing the life-saving impact of organ donation and the enduring commitment of hospital staff and the DHR Health Transplant Institute to compassion, healing, and community,” DHR Health Senior Executive Vice President Marissa Castañeda said in the release. “We have been wanting to do this project for some time and we want to thank Mrs. Cantu for helping us achieve this goal and truly create such a special piece.”

This organ donation kiosk was unveiled by DHR Health during a ceremony honoring the families of organ donors and recipients Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Edinburg. (Courtesy of DHR Health)

Cantu’s creation is now displayed in DHR Health’s main lobby, located at 5501 S. McColl Road in Edinburg, adjacent to a kiosk that features the photos and stories of organ donors.

The kiosk will also provide information about organ donation as well as allowing one to register as organ donors.