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His wife’s lungs are now hers. They met for the first time and became family.

Family members of organ donor meet with the woman now breathing with donor’s lungs

Carolyn Dickson and the family of Maria Castro-Martinez were tearful and also joyful as they met for the first time Saturday at the Donor Network West office in Fresno.
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Carolyn Dickson and the family of Maria Castro-Martinez were tearful and also joyful as they met for the first time Saturday at the Donor Network West office in Fresno.

As she looked at photographs of Maria Castro-Martinez smiling and embracing her family, Carolyn Dickson of Fresno got her first glimpse of the woman whose lungs she now breathes with.

Castro-Martinez died at the age of 37 in March 2016 of a stroke; her heart, lungs and liver were donated for transplantation. That same month, Dickson was told her lungs could fail at any moment. She had struggled for years with pulmonary hypertension and sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, and had depended on an oxygen tank, but now she was in dire need of new organs.

Then Dickson’s doctor said she was eligible for a double-lung transplant and she jumped at the idea. After she heard her name spoken after her surgery in San Francisco, Dickson knew she would be OK. And she knew she needed to meet the family of the organ donor who had given her a second chance at life.

It would take many months to communicate with her donor’s family, who live in Huron, but eventually they learned of each other through written correspondence. Dickson and her husband Larry finally met the family of Castro-Martinez on Saturday.

Jose Espinoza, Castro-Martinez’s husband, and their two children, Denisse Castro-Martinez and Jose Enrique Espinoza, met Dickson at the Donor Network West facility in northeast Fresno. Dickson said she had told herself she wouldn’t cry, but her eyes filled with tears when she saw the family.

“When I walked in the door and saw (Jose) and I saw the kids, it’s just magic,” Dickson said, fighting back tears. The hug between Espinoza and Dickson lasted about 16 seconds. “I know he was hugging Maria.”

Espinoza, who spoke in Spanish, said he always wanted to know who had gotten his wife’s organs. But he wanted to make sure that Dickson was comfortable with meeting. On Saturday, he and Dickson tightly held hands as they reflected on the new bond they now have with each other.

When I walked in the door and saw (Jose) and I saw the kids, it’s just magic.

Double-lung recipient Carolyn Dickson

He said that he might need to learn English in order to better communicate with the Dicksons. His daughter helped with translations during their meeting. But through smiles, handshakes and hugs, the gratitude both families have now needed no words.

“I know the person next to me has a piece of my wife,” Espinoza said in Spanish. “And I’m glad it’s helping give others life.”

Larry Dickson declared the Espinoza-Castro family as part of theirs. He said more Dickson family members want to meet the Espinoza-Castro family now. In the future, they might get together for barbecues or picnics, he said. Espinoza laughed and said that he likes to eat and looks forward to it.

Getting new lungs, Dickson said, has been a blessing. Her husband said that not only was Dickson meant to keep living, but meeting the Espinoza-Castro family was also meant to be.

“This is not just by chance,” Larry Dickson said. “We’ve got a mighty God and he wanted us to meet.”

Saturday’s reunion was bittersweet for Denisse, Castro-Martinez’s daughter. She said she was happy that her mother’s organs went to Dickson, who she now admires, but wishes her own mother was still alive.

Still, she rests easy knowing “that (her mom) has been able to help many other people maybe live another day with their family.”

Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado: 559-441-6304, @cres_guez

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