Because of the generous decision of the Espinoza-Castro family to donate the organs of the family’s 37-year-old mother, María Castro Martínez, of Huron, Carolyn Dickson of Fresno is alive today.
“In spite of her health challenges, she enjoyed life, loved music and signing out loud while doing house chores,” said Tina Gulbronsen, chief nursing officer at Community Regional Medical Center of María.
María “loved listening to the banda and ranchera music of Jenni Rivera and also liked Bob Marley. She enjoyed going out with her companion of 21 years, José, and dancing the night away when she was healthier.”
María died in 2016, and saved the life of Dickson with her two lungs.
“She was the sweetest, most kindhearted person,” said Denisse Espinoza Castro of her mother María.
Espinoza Castro dedicated a rose to her mother, María, during a Rose Parade Float Rider send-off event on Dec. 18 at UCSF Fresno. The event honored María, Dickson and other transplant recipients, as well as other donor family members.
Dickson will represent not only Fresno, but the Central Valley as she was selected by Donor Network West to ride atop the 2019 Donate Life Rose Parade Float in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. The 2019 float theme, Rhythm of the Heart, highlights the musical diversity and rhythms of Africa and the power of music in bringing people together.
Dickson was diagnosed with sarcoidosis in the 1970s, a disease that affected her lungs. For the eight years prior to her double-lung transplant at UCSF in 2016, Dickson depended on portable oxygen tanks or a concentrator to do any kind of activity.
Dickson and her husband, Larry, had the opportunity to meet their donor family last year and have since built a special bond with them.
“I am here on behalf of donor families everywhere,” said Espinoza Castro at the event. “I am also here on behalf of our Hispanic community, which represents more than half of Fresno County’s population.”
Espinoza Castro said of the 22,000 people waiting for an organ transplant in California, 43 percent are Latino, the largest ethnic group on the waiting list. “This is a bittersweet occasion for us,” said Espinoza Castro as she represented her family who couldn’t be at the event because of work. “We are sad that we don’t have my mother physically with us, but celebrate the fact that she gave the gifts of life.”
Espinoza Castro, 21, said organ donation touches “us all as illnesses do not choose, see race, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic status.”
“And it’s on all of us to make a difference together and promote organ and tissue donation in our communities,” said Espinoza Castro, who is studying at Fresno Pacific University.
“Though it was not an easy decision for us, donating my mom’s organs was the right thing to do,” Espinoza Castro said, adding “these gifts have allowed Carolyn to continue to be an inspiration to her family, her community, California, and now the world.”
The 18 months Dickson spent on the transplant wait list inspired her to become a Donate Life Ambassador with Donor Network West and has taken the opportunity to share her story in her surrounding community.
“I wouldn’t be here had it not been for my donor María and her family, who said yes to donation,” said Dickson, adding that the need in Fresno County is great with nearly 1,000 people waiting for a transplant.
Dickson is encouraging the community to help fulfill their mission of healing lives by registering as organ and tissue donors at the DMV or at DonorNetworkWest.org