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Celebration of Life

10/20/2017

Isabel Dominguez (back, second from left) honored her big brother’s legacy with her family at the Celebration of Life.

On Sept. 17, 2017, donor families from across Arizona attended the Donation Celebration of Life. This outdoor, family-friendly event created a space to share stories and celebrate loved ones who selflessly gave life to others.

Isabel Dominguez attended in honor of her older brother George Louis Bernal III, who passed away in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver in 1999. It has been 18 years since 22-year-old Bernal became a donor and gave the gift of life and healing to at least two others. Dominguez and her family keep his memory alive every day.

As Dominguez grew up she realized how much it would mean to meet the man her brother’s heart saved.

“I struggled to put my words together because I wanted it to be perfect, but eventually I wrote the letter,” Dominguez says. “I wanted validation that my brother did something amazing and gave someone another 16 years of life.”

Hearts Reunited

Despite her fears, Dominguez received a call a month later from Gene Johnston, the man who is alive today thanks to her brother. Their families finally met in 2016 and are still in constant communication.

The touching reunion allowed Dominguez and her family to ask Johnston about his life now that he was given a second chance. He told them that his heart was still her brother’s heart, that he was just borrowing it. Dominguez also bonded with Johnston’s wife and talks to her every day.

“Now my goal is to keep his memory alive. We’ve had a lot of closure this year and we want to maintain my brother’s memory,” she says.

The family’s first event with Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) was a luncheon last year. Since then they have met countless other families impacted by donation. Everyone came together at the Donation Celebration of Life to honor their loved ones and take comfort in the company of others who know a similar journey.

“You meet all these people and you know it took a tragic event for them to be there, but you’re a family.”

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