Chicanos Por La Causa

Walking Together

28th Aug 2018

With a large picture of her late daughter, Karen Hernandez, on the wall behind her, Graciela Sanchez tells the story of how her daughter became a hero to her family and to almost two dozen strangers.

Through the tragedy of passing away suddenly in a two-vehicle crash at only 18 years old, Hernandez saved and healed a total of 23 people through organ and tissue donation.

It was a decision Hernandez had made two years prior when she registered as a donor by checking the box at Arizona Department of Transportation Motor Vehicle Division (ADOT MVD). Sanchez was originally skeptical.

"If I needed a heart, wouldn't you want someone to donate to me?" Sanchez recalls Hernandez asking her, explaining why she made the decision to heal and save lives.

Hernandez would even take registration cards to her high school to encourage her friends to register as well. Giving the gift of life was second nature to Hernandez, a young, compassionate woman who loved animals, taking in stray dogs from her neighborhood to bathe and feed them.

Hernandez had a huge heart, and her physical heart drastically changed the life of a woman who lives 200 miles away.

Gail Shepherd was living in Yuma and was in desperate need of a lifesaving transplant after she had a severe heart attack. In October 2014, she was added to the waiting list. Only one month later, she received the gift of life thanks to Hernandez's generosity.

Sanchez wanted to hear her daughter's heartbeat again, so she wrote a letter to Hernandez's heart recipient.

After exchanging several letters, both women shared their wishes to meet each other in person. In December 2017, Sanchez met Shepherd for the first time. Shepherd greeting Sanchez with a silent hug, building a bridge of love over their language barrier.

"I can't believe I'm hearing my daughter's heart. This is incredible," says Sanchez in Spanish, after receiving a heart-shaped audio player with a digital recording of Hernandez's heartbeat, still so full of life inside Shepherd's chest.

For Shepherd, meeting Sanchez means getting to know more about the hero who saved her life. And the two walked together to honor their hero, Hernandez, in the Fiesta Bowl Parade on Dec. 30, 2017.

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