Teen’s tragic death saves family friend, former coach

BELEN, N.M. (KRQE)- A Belen man was near death until a gift from an unlikely source saved his life.

John Madrid has a tough time putting into words everything that made his son one of a kind and special. “Just an amazing kid,” he said.

“He’d walk into the room and he’d just light up the room with his smile and his humor and his great love for everybody,” Madrid added.

He was the the kind of guy who could get away with high-fiving a referee after a touchdown, who always wanted to be the best and who wanted everyone around him to be happy.

When his former lineman coach and family friend became gravely ill, he told his folks he wanted to help any way he could.

“Watching his grandfather, my dad, pass away from that disease is just a horrible thing,” said Madrid. “He didn’t want the family see that happen to him.”

Yet, there was little Jonathan could do. That is, until one day in August.

“All we know is that he fell down and hit his head,” Madrid said.

His parents thought he’d be okay. After all, his life was just beginning.

Jonathan was set to leave for college at the end of the month; he had a scholarship to New Mexico Highlands University. But the day he was supposed to start was the day his parents buried him.

“Then the doctors pulled us into the office and shattered our dreams on that, telling us there was no more hope. There’s nothing more they can do. They started discussing the donor program with us which, you know, our minds are still trying to wrap around them telling us there’s nothing more they can do for our son,” Madrid explained.

Jonathan was an organ donor. Right away, they thought of Willie, whose health was quickly deteriorating.

“Everything just fell into place like clockwork which you never ever see,” said John.

Willie’s wife, Cheryl, saw it firsthand.

“He always recognized my voice, but sometimes he didn’t know who we were, where he was at,” Cheryl said.

It was a long shot. Doctors said direct donations rarely worked; the two had to be a perfect match and Willie was very sick.

When Cheryl first heard the Madrid’s had gotten in touch after Jonathan’s death, organ donation hadn’t even crossed her mind.

“I bet they want him to be a pall bearer or honorary pall bearer because there was a close relationship,” remembers Cheryl.

When she learned what the call was about, Cheryl set her sites on Denver.

She says she called her husband and said, “‘You’re getting a liver. You’re getting Jonathan’s liver.”

“I said goodbye to my son at the Hillsboro exit at three o’clock in the morning, gave him a $100 bill and said, ‘love you, son, I’m going to go take care of dad now,'” Cheryl recalled.

The two were a match, same weight and blood type.

“That young man did save my life,” said Willie.

While he says he’s grateful for Jonathan’s gift, he says he still struggles to make sense of what happened.

“Why? Why me? Because he shouldn’t have had to leave so young. But I guess that’s just destiny, I have no idea. I just don’t know why. But things happen for a reason,” explained Willie. “But he got the last word, that guy.”

The Martinez’s call Jonathan a hero. “He’s always been mine,” said John.

Willie says he’s been in touch with John, but he says he has mixed feelings about meeting up with him and his wife, Judy. Yet, Cheryl says he’s pushing himself a little harder now that he has a piece of Jonathan inside him.

“I don’t know if I can control my emotions or not, and I was never that way but I sure am now,” Willie said.

For more information about organ donation in New Mexico, click here.

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