Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Boy's organs donated for transplants

The heart, liver, kidneys and cornea of a Colombian boy who died after a brain operation will help four others.

With his brain growing outside his skull, 7-year-old John Esteban Martinez never had a chance at life.

Thanks to him and his organs, four strangers will get their chance.

After the Colombian boy died, his parents agreed to donate his heart, liver, kidneys and a cornea for organ transplants.

"Four people will live because the parents said yes. Four people are going to benefit from these tremendous gifts," said Ruth Duncan Bell, a spokeswoman for LifeLink of Florida, a non-profit group that procures organs.

John had a dangerous and disfiguring birth defect that slowed his mental development. His parents brought him to Tampa for a risky operation to return his brain to his skull and reconstruct his face.

He underwent surgery Thursday at Tampa Children's Hospital at St. Joseph's.

The operation appeared to be a success, but John's condition deteriorated over the weekend and by Tuesday morning he was brain dead.

Each year, about 15,000 brain deaths occur in the United States; the brain permanently stops functioning while the heart and lungs keep going.

Only 30 percent of those people become organ donors, according to LifeLink.

Waiting lists for organ transplants are long. Nearly 2,700 people in Florida are waiting, and more than 75,000 people throughout the country. Nearly two-thirds of them are waiting for kidneys.

Bell said John's organs are going to three people in the southeastern United States and one person in the West.