Izaiah Franceschi was a vibrant, athletic and charismatic 15-year-old high school student at Maine West High School in Des Plaines, Ill., when a tragic accident took his life in May 2017. His mother, Irma, authorized organ and tissue donation on his behalf with the support of his father, Thomas. Izaiah saved the lives of five people as an organ donor, and his tissue gifts have saved or enhanced the lives of many other people in more than 10 states and one person in South Korea. Among the recipients of Izaiah’s organ gifts was a six-month-old infant, who received part of Izaiah’s liver. Today, he is a beautiful, thriving 2-year-old.
Irma recently sat down with Connections to share Izaiah’s story with the Gift of Hope community. His story shows others how donation can help change tragedy into triumph and illustrates how the decision to donate can benefit donors, donor families, transplant recipients and others touched by that decision. Here is a recap of that discussion, edited for space and clarity.
Connections: Describe Izaiah. What kind of person was he?
Irma Franceschi: Izaiah was a loving, talented, respectful, caring, giving, honest, loyal, humble and pleasant young man. He was an awesome big brother, son, nephew, cousin and best friend. He was a smart and determined young man who was very wise and to the point. He was eager to learn and would ask questions if he didn’t understand or know something.
C: What were his interests, his passions?
IF: Izaiah was very much into sports and working out. He played soccer and basketball and was great at both. His passion was basketball, and he was very competitive. He would always tell us he would buy us a house when he made it to the NBA. Izaiah convinced us to get him a personal basketball trainer, and he spent all of his free time training and conditioning for basketball.
C: You authorized donation on Izaiah’s behalf. Was this a difficult decision for you?
IF: The most difficult part of my decision-making was to find out that there was nothing the medical team could do to save my son.It was my decision to ask about organ donation. I recall the doctor saying, “I can’t believe you’re thinking about others at a time like this.” I know that this is what my son would have wanted me to do. His loving and giving personality helped me with this decision.
C: You had the opportunity to meet the family of the young boy who received part of Izaiah’s liver. Talk about that experience.
IF: It was a very emotional experience. I was extremely nervous but excited at the same time to meet him. We received pictures of him taken prior to him receiving the donation. He was very sad
and down in those pictures. Then I saw a picture of him a few months after surgery. What a transformation! Remembering that feeling made it a little more accepting to meet him. My family and I were delighted to see what a precious gift my son gave this little boy. This gift made him so radiant and joyous. His face said it all. The mother of the recipient said how she is truly blessed to be connected to such a precious family like Izaiah’s.
C: A memorial Bench of Hope has been placed on the grounds of Izaiah’s high school to honor his legacy, and a dedication ceremony was held on Aug. 9. Describe your experience there.
IF: The bench dedication was beautiful. It was such a joy to drive up and see all of the students, faculty, football team, Izaiah’s close friends and our close friends and family there. It was a delight to hear lovely speeches and kind words that they said about our boy, Izaiah. It was so nice to know that my son will always be remembered and honored at his school. Izaiah would have been extremely happy. Since he was very popular and charismatic, this would have touched his heart and soul. I know Izaiah was with us and smiling high above in heaven during this event.
C: Beyond the Bench of Hope dedication, what other events have taken place to honor Izaiah?
IF: We have held two other events for Izaiah. The first one was for his 16th birthday in December 2017. We had it at Izaiah’s favorite park where he grew up playing soccer from the age of 4 to 13. As a teenager, he would go back to this park and play basketball with his friends on a regular basis. The park donated its space to allow us to celebrate his 16th birthday. We had games, food and music for the guests. We had a volleyball tournament and a three-point basketball contest. The winners were given gift cards to Izaiah’s favorite restaurant, Buffalo Wild Wings. Our dream is to continue to host and celebrate Izaiah’s birthday, which is Dec. 13, at this local park.
The second event took place this past summer. We held Izaiah’s Inaugural Bike Ride in conjunction with Latinos Biking 4-UR Dreams. Some members of Latinos Biking 4-UR Dreams rode their bikes from Chicago to Des Plaines and gathered with Izaiah’s family members and friends at a picnic grove at Lake Opeka. We had custom shirts made and geared up for a bike ride in the community. About 50 bikers made the ride on one of Izaiah’s favorite routes. We also rode to his school, where we visited the Tree of Life that was planted in his honor. We took pictures and said a prayer for our beloved Izaiah. We then went to the local park where he grew up and, soon after, we rode back to the grove where we hosted a picnic in his honor.
At this event, family and friends donated $500 to support a college scholarship to Izaiah’s senior mentor at Maine West, a young man named Jasper. He was surprised and extremely grateful. Izaiah knows he deserved it. Jasper was always very supportive and to him. It was a great event in honoring Izaiah because he loved being outdoors, and he enjoyed all the activities we took part in that day, especially the balloon toss and water balloon fight.
C: One of our guiding tenets at Gift of Hope is that “Donation Benefits Every Family.” Based on your experience, do you agree with this?
IF: Yes, I agree with this statement. I believe donation is a great way to help others. It has helped us to know that my son’s love and memory will never be forgotten. He has gifted many recipients and has given them a new chance at life. Izaiah’s legacy continues.
C: What messages do you have for family members who face the decision of whether to authorize donation on their loved one’s behalf — the decision you faced in 2017?
IF: The message that we have is to not be selfish or scared. People should think about the other lives that can be saved through organ and tissue donation. Your family member’s memory will live on through others.