MERRILLVILLE | Javier Nunez was a big man with a big heart.
He was thoughtful and generous, even helping fund his sister's college education without wanting recognition.
A cirrhosis diagnosis at 37 put him on an organ donor waiting list. On his 39th birthday, he lay in a bed in an intensive care unit, where doctors told him a liver was ready.
But, four days later, he died of a brain hemorrhage. His corneas were transplanted. His bone tissue was used in 46 procedures.
Although he could not be saved, his donation helped the quality of life for those strangers. Knowing that has helped his family grieve.
"It still gives us comfort," said his sister, Angie Merryman, of Portage. "We want to spread the word of organ donation."
Nunez's story was among those lauded at a flag presentation and lantern launch ceremony Tuesday at Methodist Hospitals Southlake Campus, in conjunction with Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network and Indiana Lions Eye Bank.
Merryman became active in the organ donor movement when it touched her family. Her mother was on a waiting list for a liver but died March 8, still waiting.
About 18 people die every day waiting for an organ donation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Last year was the most successful in the last two decades for Gift of Hope, but more needs to be done, said Jack Lynch, director of community affairs for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.
"As well as we did, it's not enough," he said.
He talked of visiting a friend on dialysis Tuesday in a building north on Broadway and seeing more than 40 people hooked to dialysis machines. It happens in three shifts a day in that one facility, demonstrating the need for more organ donors, he said.
This month is National Donate Life month.
More than 1,500 Indiana residents and more than 120,000 Americans nationwide need an organ transplant, said Diana Goodwin, director of nursing quality and regulatory compliance and chair of Methodist Hospitals Organ Donation Committee.
Nurse Julie Crane donated a kidney to a family friend nearly nine years ago.
The boy was born with a congenital defect and underwent numerous surgeries before doctors decided he needed a new kidney, Crane said.
When he reached 25 pounds and was healthy enough to undergo the surgery, the transplant happened, Crane said.
She described the donation as "beautiful," knowing she gave the boy extra quality years of life.
Crane wants to use her story to spread the word about organ donation.