Donate Life Day at the capitol celebrates donor families and recipients

Donor families and transplant recipients celebrated life on Wednesday at the Donate Life day at the state capitol.

Mark Larson, a two-time kidney recipient, was on dialysis and unable to fulfill his passion of traveling. One day the phone rang and everything changed.

Jess Villegas Jr. died of a brain aneurysm. He was an organ donor and his death gave Larson his life back.

“He donated a kidney to me, but also saved 5 other peoples lives. So, he’s my hero,” Larson said. “When I recovered from my surgery, I wrote a letter to [Villegas’s] family and I told them what it meant to me to get my life back.”

The Donor Network of Arizona (DNA) is anonymous, but recipients can write letters to donor families through DNA.

“I didn’t hear anything for weeks and weeks, but one day out of the blue I get a phone call from this nice lady who says he name is Mercy Villegas and she is my donor’s mother,” Larson said.

Jacqueline Keidel, a DNA spokesperson, said she sees the high level of emotions when she meets families of potential donors.

“I meet families that in their worst moment, in a moment when they have every right to be selfish and bitter because they’ve just lost a loved one,” Keidel said. “They make the decision thinking of other people. I am inspired by those recipients who don’t take that gift for granted.”

Larson is one of them. He enjoys traveling and everywhere he goes, he brings back a gift for Mercy Villegas.

“I want her to know that she’s always in my heart,” Larson said.

Wednesday also served as a place to register donors and advocate the Donate Life message to Arizona government.

According to the Donor Network of Arizona, there are 2,723,615 organ, eye and tissue donors in Arizona. For more information visit or call 1-800-94-DONOR.