Alfonso Garcia and his parents pose with the UCSF medical team that cared for him during his 2010 life-saving liver transplant. Pictured, from left, are mother Marta Garcia; Emily Perito, MD; nurse practitioner Susan Diaz, MSN; Garcia; Philip Rosenthal, MD; and father Oscar Garcia.
Editor's Note: This story was updated on Jan. 29 to add a photo from the Rose Parade.
Alfonso Garcia still carries around a baseball cap that belonged to a 22-year-old man who passed away in 2010 having never met him. But the cap is just a small token of an even bigger reminder that the 18-year-old college freshman carries with him every day: the man’s liver, which saved Garcia’s life.
Since receiving the liver transplant at UCSF, Garcia has made it a mission to spread the word about the value of organ donation by sharing the memory of his hero, George Becker, who died after a bad sinus infection spread to his brain.
Years later, Garcia still “thinks about George every day,” he said. “I don’t take anything for granted.”
Alfonso Garcia, holding a photograph of his liver donor George Becker, waves to the crowd from the Donate Life float in the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1. Above Garcia hangs a florograph of Becker.
As part of that mission, Garcia was selected by UCSF and the California Transplant Donor Network to ride on the Donate Life “Journeys of the Heart” float at the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Tuesday, Jan. 1., in honor of Becker. The float will bear a florograph of Becker – a portrait made of flowers.
Garcia – whose father, Oscar Garcia, is a respiratory therapist at UCSF – was 15 years old when he was diagnosed with Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder in which too much copper accumulates in the body’s tissues, causing damage to the liver and nervous system. His health was deteriorating quickly and he needed a liver transplant immediately.
Becker, who signed up to be an organ donor on his driver’s license when he was 16, ended up being the right match. And Garcia’s UCSF medical team – which included transplant surgeon Ryutaro Hirose, MD; Philip Rosenthal, MD, medical director of the Pediatric Liver Transplant Program; Emily Perito, MD, a clinical fellow in pediatrics and gastroenterology; and nurse practitioner Susan Diaz, MSN – performed a successful transplant.
“It’s something that I appreciate and hold very close to my heart, the people at UCSF,” said Garcia, now a healthy, strong young man who just started attending the University of San Francisco. “Growing up, seeing my dad go to work every day, I didn’t know the significance of that until the day I was under the care of UCSF. I was like, ‘Wow, these people do an incredible job day in and day out to care for people and save people’s lives.’”
Recognized as a world leader in organ transplantation since 1964, the UCSF Organ Transplant Service has performed transplants for more than 10,000 patients and has played a key role in defining the field. The UCSF Liver Transplant Program, designated as a “Center of Excellence” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, performs more liver transplants than any other hospital in Northern California – more than 2,300 liver transplants for adults and children since it began in 1988.
Marta Garcia, whose son Alfonso got a life-saving liver transplant at UCSF, poses with Connie Mays, mother of Alfonso's organ donor George Becker.
Since his transplant, Garcia’s family has forged a deep connection with Becker’s mother, Connie Mays, and they’ve teamed up to spread the word about organ donation, including walking together at a recent Donate Life Walk fundraiser. Garcia also has appeared before California legislators to speak about donation education in high school curriculum and was asked to toss out the first pitch for the San Francisco Giants on Donate Life Day in 2011.
The Donate Life parade float will include a total of 32 donor family members, living donors and transplant recipients from around the country. Since 2004, the float has served as a memorial to organ and tissue donors and a platform to inspire the world to save and heal those in need through the gift of life.
Photos by Susan Merrell