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Jose Zaragoza continues to tell of need for organ donors
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Jose Zaragoza lost his son to a football-related injury about five years ago.

At the time, Matthew Zaragoza Van Gelderen was an East Union High junior.  During a non-league game at Bear Creek, he suffered a fatal head injury while playing on special teams shortly before half time.

“Matthew wanted to be a football star,” said Zaragoza on Monday. “God had other plans.”

The youngster was placed on life support in the wake of the September 2005 accident. He was left brain dead but his other organs were functional.

The Zaragoza family, in turn, agreed to donate Matthew’s heart, lungs, kidney, liver and pancreas.

“We were lucky to have a week to make our decision,” Jose Zaragoza said. “But there are people who aren’t as fortunate.”

He volunteers countless hours each year on behalf of the California Transplant Donor Network. Zaragoza juggles his schedule at the local Raley’s supermarket – he works the graveyard shift – and speaks to area schools while working the CTDN booth at the various functions.

In March, Zaragoza was one of the guest speakers at Delta College’s Donate Life California Campus Challenge.

Students there competed with 10 other schools in Northern California, battling it out to see who could register the most organ and tissue donors and who could gather the most organ and tissue donors per student population.

As one of his causes, Zaragoza is getting the word out on the Donate Life California Registry, in particular, providing awareness to the pink “donor dot” found on most driver licenses.

Donors, in the past, specified their hope to save a life but that decision often needed to be registered or have the family’s OK in order to ensure that the wish was fulfilled.

That’s all changed.

Zaragoza and others involved in the organ and tissue donor registry say that those with the pink “donor dot” can now log on – or – to provide such information on one of the secure and confidential websites.

“You have to be prepared,” he said. “In such cases, you may not have much time to decide (whether to donate the organs of a loved one).

“It’s important for families to talk about it.”

He recalled when he had to make that important decision.

“If I donated Matthew’s heart, I thought, it would give someone else a second chance at life,” said Zaragoza, who continues to support the Lancers’ football program.

He and wife, Zona, have more reason to attend the games this year since their youngest, Kristy, is a varsity cheerleader.

The family is scheduled to attend the upcoming 2010 U.S. Transplant Games in Madison, Wis.

“We weren’t planning to go but CTDN is paying for everything,” said Jose Zaragoza, who believes that the donor network is taking on the accommodations based on his volunteer work.

Because he’s bilingual, Zaragoza is able to educate members in the Spanish-speaking communities on the cause.

He’s provided donor information on commercials aired on the two local Spanish television networks, Telemundo and Univision.

Zaragoza, in addition, did radio commercials.

“I’ve yet to hear them,” he said of the latter.

Zaragoza often talks to groups about the positive effects his family’s decision made in saving the lives of four other people.

He’s proud to say that all four not only survived their transplants but now live productive lives.

“I think Matthew’s purpose on Earth was to save lives,” Zaragoza said. “That’s why I do all this (for CTDN).”

More information on the donor network can be obtained by calling 888-570-9400.