From the brink of death to bursting with life, 21-year-old Diego Menendez has a profound sense of gratitude to the stranger who saved him.
“I won’t be able to thank them enough for this,” said Menendez. “I feel like I’m five years old again, I feel so great.”
Last October, Diego’s liver was failing. He had been on the wait list for a liver donor for two years and was running out of time.
Then his family thought they had the answer, a cousin in Spain wanted to donate part of his liver and flew to Canada to confirm he was a match.
But the Spanish citizen was denied entry at the airport when border guards decided he was coming to Toronto to find a job, not to save Diego.
Diego’s mother and sister were left in tears.
Global News took the issue to then-Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, whose staff declined interview requests before he commented at his campaign off in Ajax ahead of the federal election.
“In the final stages of an election campaign I am not sure why this is your top priority?” Alexander said in response to questions about whether he would look into the issue.
In the following days, a source assured Global News that Diego’s cousin would be allowed into Canada if he decided to try again.
Before a return trip could be arranged, Diego got the call he had been waiting for, a liver had become available via a deceased organ donor.
“I was like, ‘What do I do? Do I cry? Do I jump? Do I yell?'” he said. “My sister and mom were all crying of happiness.”
The transplant surgery was an immediate success.
“It’s good. It’s good, like I have my brother back,” said his sister Lorena Menendez.
“It was like night and day, one day he was yellow and the other day he was kind of normal and the following day he was better, and then he just went up from there.”
They want the family of the person who passed away and donated their organ to know the extent of their appreciation.
“God bless them … I am so grateful,” Diego said.
The family also wants to pass on Diego’s story, because less than one-third of Ontarians are registered organ donors.
“Every day I think of those people and what they’ve given Diego, his life,” said Lesley Jacksch, one of Diego’s relatives.
Thanks to an organ donor, Diego is finally able to make plans to travel, go to college and get a job in financial services.
He is hopeful that after seeing how an organ donor saved him, more people will register.
“It saves lives, it saves sorrow, it saves sadness, and it’s a sign of love for everyone else,” he said.