Mother finds peace with son’s cornea and tissue donation

Family celebrates autistic teenage son’s life and legacy during National Donate Life Month
April 15, 2019
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For the Marez family, National Donate Life Month in April is a celebration of the life of Jacob Marez, and the lifesaving gifts he gave following his passing in 2016.

Jacob, who was 16 years old when he passed away, had high-functioning autism and was non-verbal. Although he did not speak, he made an impact on anyone he met in life. His mother, Jennifer Marez, wanted him to continue making a difference and decided to donate Jacob’s cornea and tissue.

“Jacob never spoke words, but he taught everyone who knew him what true love is and what a pure soul could give to others,” Jennifer said. “When I lost him, I wanted to keep going. I didn’t want to lose that.” 

 After his passing, Jennifer was called about potentially donating Jacob’s cornea and tissue by local tissue bank GenCure, a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global. After the staff explained how his gift could help others, she saw the decision to donate as a way to honor her son’s life.  

 “I was grateful to have the opportunity to make something positive out of something that was so terrible,” Jennifer said. “To make something good come from it.” 

 National Donate Life Month raises awareness about the importance of organ, cornea, and tissue donation. A single donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation, and help up to 75 patients through cornea and tissue donations. 

 Cornea donations, collected from local eye banks, can be used to treat blindness and other eye conditions.

 Tissue, which is collected from tissue banks such as GenCure, can be used in dental and orthopedic surgeries, hip replacement and knee surgeries, and for trauma, burn and other wound care. It can be further processed for use in reconstructive surgery, such as in breast reconstruction following a mastectomy. 

 “The tissue that he gave went to people to have a better life, like burn victims,” Jennifer said. “All those things that you can feel like your son is remembered, or your loved one is remembered, and that he made a difference for someone.”

 Jacob enjoyed collecting items from his favorite TV shows and movies, like “The Lion King.” His largest collection was books about zoo animals. He also liked the feeling of weightlessness and loved riding rollercoasters, swinging, and being in the water.

 “He was extremely drawn to swimming, diving, and the beach,” Jennifer said. “The bigger the wave, the better it was. He would just dive right into the waves and stand out there and let them hit him. All you could see was his little feet paddling on top of the seawater as he was down below.”

 The Marez family honors Jacob’s memory through daily drives to school, family outings, and dinner table discussions. During National Donate Life Month, they also celebrate Jacob’s life and the legacy of his precious gifts, and encourage others to consider being a lifesaving donor.

 To become an organ, cornea, and tissue donor, register at DonateLifeTexas.org. To learn more about tissue donation, visit GenCure.org.