In January of 2010, two young men — strangers to one another — checked into hospitals suffering from sudden illnesses.
Near Sacramento, George Becker, 22, had a routine sinus infection that suddenly traveled to his brain. On the same day in San Francisco, 15-year-old Alfonso Garcia was stricken with a rare liver disease and told he would die in days without a transplant.
The trajectory of the two men would collide in dueling chapters of life and death. When Becker died suddenly, his liver was transplanted in Garcia, saving his life.
A week before, the horizons of these two young men were tinted with promise. Garcia was training to become a boxer with thoughts of a military career. Becker was a class clown who balanced his antics with perfect grades — taking time off from college to figure things out.
Becker’s gift altered the course of Garcia’s life in ways neither would’ve never imagined just a week before the surgery.
“I can’t be a fighter in the ring but I can be a fighter in different ways,” Garcia said. “I can be a fighter for organ donation.”
After the transplant, Garcia devoted his free time toward raising awareness for the California Transplant Donor Network. University of California San Francisco transplant surgeon Ryo Hirosi said through Becker’s gift and Garcia’s outreach, others have been saved.
“Every person that donates organs who wouldn’t have, saves seven to ten lives,” Hirosi said. “George indirectly has literally saved hundreds of lives.”
Hirosi said the need for organ transplants has grown more severe over the last few decades because of increases in certain diseases.
He said UCSF generally has a list of 5,000 people waiting for kidney transplants, though it only receives enough organs to transplant up to 450 a year. He said twenty percent of patients waiting liver transplants will die before receiving one.
Eighteen months ago, Becker’s mother Connie Mays traveled to Pinole to meet Garcia and his family. She wanted to see the life her son had saved.
“I was so excited,” Mays said, “so nervous to meet this man who was alive because of my son.”
She said her family immediately bonded with Garcia’s. It helped the grieving process to see the work Garcia was doing with his new life.
“I feel extremely grateful, proud of George,” said Mays, “proud of Alfonso for the message he continues to put out there and how he honors my son.”
A portrait of Becker will decorate an organ donation float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Garcia will ride the float, carrying with Becker’s ball cap, given to him by the family.
“I carry around this hat of George Becker to remind me every day,” said Garcia. “It would not be possible for me to be around today if it were not for George Becker.”