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Young Mother Donates Organs After Long Illness

“She Always Wanted to Help People”

Suffering from a lifelong rare illness that led to a progressive decline in her health and quality of life, Brenda Castro was finally ready to let go. She was 22.

“She was the sweetest, most caring person, and everybody loved her,” said Brenda’s mother, Gloria, of Aurora, Ill. “She was the strongest person in my life.”

Brenda left behind a 5-year-old daughter, Zulema, a fiancé, Andre, and a devoted family. Brenda was registered to be an organ donor, “which embodied the kind of person she was,” Gloria said.

Gloria says after Brenda passed away, “Gift of Hope said ‘You can honor her wishes. She can help other people.’ I said yes. She always wanted to help people. If I bought her a hamburger, she’d ask me to buy two so she could give one to a homeless person she saw.”

It was a journey to let Brenda go, and to understand her desire to be an organ donor, but Gloria came to embrace it. Seeing firsthand the good that can come from tragedy and benefits of organ donation, Gloria signed up to be a donor after Brenda’s passing, as did all of her other children. “They are so proud of Brenda, and want to honor her memory,” she said.

Brenda was born with a rare illness that lead to a progressive decline in her health and quality of life. She passed away at just 22.

Learning to let go

Shortly after she was born, Brenda developed ongoing rashes and high fevers, and after six months was finally diagnosed with a rare immune disease called histiocytosis. Over the years her treatment included chemotherapy and intravenous infusions of immunoglobulin (IVIG). By the time she was 20, Brenda needed oxygen full-time and doctors said without a lung transplant, she would not survive.

After four false starts – in which lungs became available but ultimately weren’t a match for her – Brenda got a lung transplant on April 7, 2019. She felt better immediately and was thrilled to get a second chance at life, “a gift from a person we never knew,” said Gloria.

But after three months Brenda had issues breathing again and told her mother she couldn’t keep going. Gloria remembers her daughter saying, “I know my body and it’s not responding. I’m tired of needles and machines and being in the hospital.  I don’t have a life and I can’t be with my daughter.”

Brenda continued to decline, but Gloria struggled with her daughter’s desire to let go. She knew she would miss her daughter and wanted to give her every possible chance. But by December, Brenda was being kept alive by a ventilator and doctors told Gloria if she was taken off she would die. Gloria asked Brenda what she wanted. “She squeezed my hand,” said Gloria. “She was done, no more.”

Gloria and her husband Jose agreed to take Brenda off the ventilator Dec. 26, 2019. “It was the hardest day of my life,” she said “I touched her cheeks and gave her a kiss. I said, you can go, everything is going to be fine.”

Her kidneys and liver saved three lives. “I wish I knew who Brenda helped. I would love to talk to them,” said Gloria.

Gloria and Brenda pose for a photo. Gloria says her family’s experience with organ donation has inspired her to volunteer and share Brenda’s story with others.

Giving the gift of hope…and life

After Brenda died, Gloria missed her fiercely, found herself angry with god and questioned her decision. Then she dreamed of Brenda. “She said ‘I’m fine, please, please take care of my daughter.’ I woke up really happy and my heart was peaceful.”

Gloria said her experience motivated her to volunteer for Gift of Hope, to help other people who are going through what she did. She wants to help them understand that their loved one can be a donor, and give the gift of hope for a better life.

“Life is like a flower, which enjoys the sun, but one day it dies,” said Gloria. “And it’s fine. We have something to do in this life and when we get it done, we’ve got to go.”



Join the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry by Clicking Here or Texting HOPE to 51555.