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Wife and mother who lost husband, daughter speaks at Johns Hopkins in support of organ donation

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

When Rebecca Irizarry lost her husband and daughter almost two years ago, she was admittedly in a very tough place.

“The days after the accident […] were such a blur. There were many questions that I immediately had to answer. And everything was so difficult,” said Irizarry during a May 6 press-conference at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg. “But, I tell everyone, the easiest decision involved was donating their organs and tissues. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind when that subject came up.”

On July 27, 2014, Irizarry lost both her then 38-year-old husband Ommy Irizarry and 9-year-old daughter Oceana when a small-engine plane crash landed onto Caspersen Beach in Venice, Florida, where the Irizarry family was celebrating Rebecca and Ommy’s ninth anniversary. The incident made national news.

However tragic, Irizarry’s ultimate decision to donate her husband and daughter’s organs and tissue gave others a chance to live.

While being honored at the 2016 Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California — where both Oceana and Ommy were honored with floragraphs displayed on the Donate Life float in the parade — Irizarry was contacted by one of her daughter’s organ recipients, a 7-year-old boy who, now with a healthy liver, can play sports for the first time.

“It’s something that, when you donate, you hope to hear from these families,” said Irizarry. “And you understand that you might not. And that’s OK. But, bottom line, you’re hoping to help others.”

Irizarry and her daughter, 7-year-old Ava, have yet to meet the boy’s family, but she says that they all keep in contact, as she frequently receives updates on the boy’s life, as well as pictures and videos of him playing baseball.

“When I see that, it’s kind of a mix of emotions,” Irizarry continued. “But, overall, the biggest emotion is happiness, just in knowing that Oceana was able to help.”

Currently, there are more than 121,000 people waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, 1,921 of which are children.

In Florida, there are presently more than 5,400 on the national transplant waiting list, with over 100 being children.

Cumulatively, that equates to a new name being added to that national list every ten minutes.

“While many will receive their needed transplants, the sobering fact is that last year alone, more than 100 children died waiting for a needed organ because it never became available,” said Dr. Tom Nakagawa, who also spoke at today’s presser.

According to Nakagawa, chief of the Division of Critical Care Medicine and director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, more than 6,100 people died waiting for a needed organ last year — roughly 17 people a day. 

“Part of our mission at Johns Hopkins All children Hospital is to save more lives through organ donation,” said Nakagawa. “We recognize the importance of helping, healing and saving lives — not only here at our hospital, but at hospitals all across the united states.

One organ donor can potentially save eight lives and improve more than 60 others through their tissue donation.   

“Organ donation is a remarkable gift that allows the legacy of the loved one to live on. As one life ends, another gets saved and healed,” concluded Nakagawa.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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