Tulane Medical Center April 24, 2018

As part of National Donate Life Month, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans and the Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency (LOPA) partnered to bring an organ transplant recipient – and the family of the organ donor that gave her a second chance at life – together for the first time.

Six months ago, Lee and Valerie Benoit and Tamara Huggins were strangers. Now they share a bond forged by a selfless gift.

After a tragic accident in September 2017, the Benoit’s 5-year-old grandson, Xander Cruz, came to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center and left a hero, saving and enhancing four lives through organ donation after his passing.

“The decision to become an organ donor is a selfless act,” said Terrie Sterling, Chief Operating Officer at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. “Meetings between donor families and recipients are an opportunity to heal and see that their loved one’s decision helped someone else live. We are proud to be a partner for such an important cause.

On April 5, Tamara Huggins, along with her son Peppi and daughter Timeshia, had the opportunity to meet Lee and Valerie Benoit and share their appreciation for the decision the Benoits made.

Tamara is one of the lives Xander saved. She received both of his kidneys at Tulane Medical Center and has since been given a second chance at life.

“Organ donation offers one person incredible power to change lives and leave a legacy of hope,” said Gigi Spicer, vice president of the Tulane Transplant Institute in New Orleans. “We are proud to work with LOPA and medical facilities across the state of Louisiana to help fulfill the greatest gift of all for patients like Tamara – the gift of life.”

Even from his young age, Xander knew that saving lives was his calling and often told his family that he wanted to be a first responder. To honor and remember Xander’s gift, a bear dressed in a police officer’s uniform was given to each family. What made each bear special was that they each had five hearts inside – one for Xander and four others for each of the recipients he touched through the gift of donation.

“Xander made a very big impact for such a little kid,” said Kelly Ranum, CEO of LOPA. “Even though he was only 5 he already knew he wanted to help others. It’s a privilege to work with families like his and we hope his story will inspire others to learn the facts and say yes to donation.”

Today, Xander is a hero who lives on through those who received his organs.

April is National Donate Life Month, a time to encourage individuals to register as organ, eye and tissue donors and to celebrate those that have saved lives through the gift of donation. Organ donors have the ability to save up to 9 lives through donation and help many more through eye and tissue donation.

In Louisiana, more than 2,000 people are waiting for a life-saving organ. Be a hero by becoming an organ, eye and tissue donor. Learn more and register at DonateLifeLA.org.