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New Mexico Indian organ donor saves 5 lives

By Alysa Landry
Farmington, New Mexico (AP) May 2010

Shawn Wero’s parents wear lapel pins that read “Donate Life.” The words are a tribute to their son, who died May 4 after suffering a brain hemorr-hage caused by a fall. Shawn, 32, was an organ donor.

Donating organs is forbidden among some American Indians, who believe the human body should be buried in its complete form. But the decision was Shawn’s, said his father, George Wero, of Bloomfield.

“I’ve got no remorse,” George said. “If my body is reusable again after I die, I say go ahead.”

George was the recipient of a kidney donation 10 years ago after he was diagnosed with kidney failure. His daughter, Sabrina, gave him a kidney, making a choice the entire family adopted.

“The reason we’re all donors is because my husband was on dialysis for five years,” said Shawn’s mother, Priscilla Wero. “He had limited time and all three of his daughters decided they wanted to be donors. Only Sabrina was a match.”

It took Sabrina a year, however, to muster the courage to act against tradition, Priscilla said. Her decision saved her father’s life.

Shawn saved five lives when six of his organs were collected, said Maria Sanders, community services manager for New Mexico Donor Services. Shawn donated his heart, liver, lungs and kidneys, Sanders said.

“He essentially saved lives,” she said of Shawn. “His death was sudden, but he was in good physical condition and we were able to collect most of his organs.”

When a donor dies, the doctors of potential organ recipients convene at the donor’s side, Sanders said.

New Mexico doctors only perform kidney transplants, so Shawn’s kidneys went to two recipients in the state. His heart went to a patient in Utah, his liver went to California and his lungs were transplanted together in an Oklahoma patient, Sanders said.

Shawn decided long ago he wanted to help save lives, said his uncle, Charles Benally.

“He had already decided and we tried go with his wishes,” Benally said of Shawn. “Even though it was taboo among Native Americans to even think about donating, I think it all went back to the decision his sister made to donate to his father.”

Shawn’s family remembers him as a source of joy, Priscilla said. He loved sports, including baseball, T-ball, wrestling and track, though he stopped running track because “running in circles was boring,” Priscilla said.

Shawn grew up in Farmington and Bloomfield and graduated from Bloomfield High School in 1996. He lived in Rio Rancho at the time of his death. There, he worked for Arizona Title and coached countless youth in baseball and softball.

“I can’t say enough about my son,” Priscilla said. “Ever since he was a small child, he brought joy into our lives.”

Shawn also left joy in peoples’ lives when he died, George said.

“It’s something we can learn from,” George said. “Because of my daughter’s kidney that I have, I wouldn’t be living without it. ...Those that donate have a life they can give to another on this earth. In my experience, I think that the eyes of my son are seeing again through another person.”