Wife Battles Donation Myths to Honor Husband’s Decision to Donate
“Our loved one’s life ended, but it meant a new beginning for someone else and their family”
Tiffany Zuniga believes donation is “a beautiful gift, a good thing one can do to help others.” Because she believed that, she did everything she could to ensure that her husband, Alex Zuniga, who shared that belief, became an organ and tissue donor when he suffered a brain hemorrhage and passed away in 2017.
“Life fell apart for our kids and I when Alex died,” said Tiffany. “I lost my job, our house and we had to rebuild.” Alex and Tiffany had three children together, Alex, Alize, and Anastasia who were each impacted by their father’s passing in different ways. What Tiffany and her kids miss most about Alex are the everyday activities that bonded them as a family and his intangible qualities they loved so dearly.
“Alex had a big personality and beautiful smile,” said Tiffany. “He’d always light up a room. He was funny and loud. His presence was always felt, and suddenly he was gone.”
Myths & Misconceptions
Alex’s family traveled from California to Chicago as soon as Tiffany shared news that he was hospitalized. Tiffany was a bit nervous because she knew she needed to explain to the family that Alex was a registered donor and that she wanted to honor his decision. As it sometimes happens, some of the family members were against donation because they believed some of the myths and misconceptions on the topic. They were concerned that recovering Alex’s organs might be prioritized over saving his life, or that he would not be able to receive proper funeral services.
“I understood all of the concerns, but none of them were true,” said Tiffany, who learned about organ and tissue donation while working at Superior Ambulance as a dispatcher where Alex also worked in the Medicare division. He and Tiffany sometimes talked about their trainings, which included education on organ and tissue donation. “It’s a lot of information to take in,” she said. “And even after we learned about donation, we still were not really sure what would happen when the moment to donate actually came.”
Some of the family members expressed their fears, doubts and objections to Tiffany and the hospital staff at University of Chicago Medical Center. But Tiffany remained steadfast in her desire to honor Alex’s decision to become a donor and to possibly help save a life.
“It’s hard to process so much information in that devastating moment,” Tiffany said. “You’re hurting and the pain is so intense. But if you can look from the outside in and think about someone else benefiting from the donation, you should give it a chance. I’m grateful the hospital staff was so patient and supportive amid all the fear, sadness and uncertainty.”
A Piece of the Puzzle
Alex’s family ultimately also agreed that donation was best, not only because it was what Alex wanted, but because it was the right thing to do. As an organ donor, Alex saved the life of a man in his 50s who received his liver.
Many grieving families struggle with fears about donation because they unfortunately hear misinformation about what donation is, but Tiffany knew that it was what Alex really wanted. “It was difficult because I understood everyone’s doubts and questions. But I know Alex is proud of how things worked out,” said Tiffany. “
Over the last three years, Tiffany regained some of what she lost. She found a new job and a new home for her family. She feels her kids are all the strength and motivation she needs to be the best mother possible and to continue fighting for a better life for them.
“We went through a really tough time,” said Tiffany. “But it is important to know that even though our loved one’s life ended, it meant a new beginning for someone else and their family. You know, Alex would always call me his puzzle piece; he would say ‘we fit well like a puzzle.’ Maybe donation was also a precious piece of our puzzle.”
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