PORTAGE | About 100 Portage High School students turned out to honor one of their own this week.
Students, on Tuesday evening, held a candlelight vigil outside the school to remember Michael Kasper, a PHS junior who died Monday — his 17th birthday — after a lifelong battle with heart and lung disease.
"There was a great group of kids out there. They really stood up and spoke and told good stories," said Michael's aunt, Valerie VanSenus of Crown Point.
Michael, the son of Joe Kasper and Rose Garneski, both of Portage, battled pulmonary arterial hypertension, said VanSenus.
Born with a heart defect in which the arteries in his heart were reversed, VanSenus said he suffered from a lung collapse as an infant. While he underwent several surgeries to correct his heart condition, she said he struggled his entire life. Eventually his heart became enlarged because of his poor lung function.
Michael was never put on an organ donor list, she said, because doctors said the average wait for a double lung and heart transplant would be 43 months.
"There are just not enough people signing up for organ donation. He couldn't wait 43 months," she said, adding that Michael's eyes were donated after his death.
VanSenus encouraged people to sign up to be an organ donor to help others battling conditions like her nephew's.
Some 120,000 people are awaiting organs, according to the Donate Life America web site at donatelife.net.
VanSenus said family and friends gathered at Michael's home on Sunday to celebrate his birthday. During the celebration, he was rushed to the hospital where he died.
"He touched so many lives. He was the class clown. He was a good-natured, fun kid who liked to make people laugh," she said.
Visitation for Michael will be held from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Edmonds & Evans Funeral Home, 6941 Central Ave. Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the home.