NASCAR driver Joey Gase honors organ donors and recipients
Cassandra Contreras was 16 when she signed up to be an organ door while getting her driver’s license.
Her mother, Emily Avila, didn’t know it at the time and, unfortunately, found out on the toughest day of her life.
Cassandra, known as “Cassie” by her friends, died in a car accident in June 2017. The 17-year-old was going to be a senior at Eaton High School.
But because of Cassie’s caring act, she was able to save lives.
“That day she signed up, she talked to her grandma and told her that if anything ever happened to her that she wanted her organs to be donated,” Avila said. “She had the biggest heart.”
That heart – along with her lungs, liver and kidneys - were donated.
“If you knew her, she was that kind of a person,” Avila said. “She wanted to help others and was always giving. She was a wonderful daughter, friend, cousin and family member.”
Cassie’s courageous act didn’t go unnoticed. She was honored on Thursday at Eaton by NASCAR driver Joey Gase, who also recognized 12 other honorees.
Gase, whose mother died and became a donor in 2011, partnered with Donate Life Texas to pay tribute to Thursday’s honorees, which included both organ donors and recipients.
Every honoree and family member got to be apart of Gase’s tradition, “Handprints of Hope.” They paint their hands with a color of their choosing and place it on the hood of Gase’s car.
Those handprints as well as photos of the honorees are on his Donate Life Texas No. 51 car, which he’ll drive on Sunday during the Monster Energy Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It’s a really cool event that we’ve been doing around the country. Donate Life Texas actually started it, but we let anyone connected with organ donation paint their handprints on the car,” Gase said. “Normally it’s an emotional time for people, but it’s something to get them involved.”
Eaton sophomore Casey Huff was honored by Gase for being a recipient. She had a heart transplant in March.
“It’s a big deal and so important to me,” Huff said. “I feel like people don’t understand how important being an organ donor is and things like this can give them insight on how big our community is and how much a donor can change or save someone else’s life.”
Several Eaton students also got to watch the presentation. They took pictures of the car with Gase and even put their handprints on a banner. Some got to register to be an organ donor too.
“I feel that I’ve come such a long way,” Huff said. “It’s a blessing to be here today and I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for an organ donor. Organ donation is incredible and an amazing thing to be apart of.”
Huff said she hasn’t met with her donor’s family yet, but plans to.
Avila was able to meet the recipients of Cassie’s heart, who lives in Omaha, and lungs, who lives in India.
“It was a bit overwhelming, but a relief to hear her heart beat again,” she said. “Cassandra had the heart of gold and I wanted someone else to have that. It helped me deal with my grief to see her living on and helping other people.”