Organ donation wasn't something ever discussed among Deborah Flores' family. But when tragedy struck, it changed her life.
In May 2013, Flores' 22-year-old son, Xusha Brown Jr., was killed after someone in a passing vehicle opened fire at the car he was riding in along Interstate 8. Brown — who police say was not a target in the shooting — was struck in the head and died at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
At the hospital, Flores discovered her son had registered to be an organ donor. The family honored his wishes, and Brown was able to save four lives by donating his heart, liver and two kidneys.
"No one in my family was an organ donor — we had never really thought about it. We never talked about it," Flores says. "But it was on his license. We didn't even know."
April is Donate Life Month, an annual recognition of Flores, her son, and the hundreds of thousands of people in the United States whose lives have been touched by organ and tissue donation. The observance also aims to inspire people to register as organ donors.
Throughout the month, Sharp Memorial Hospital flies a special Donate Life flag as a visual reminder of the importance of organ donation, and to call attention to the need for more donors. This year, the hospital will also "go blue and green" by lighting the facility in the colors that represent Donate Life America.
Nationwide, more than 120,000 people need a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. That number continues to grow as the rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity rise. Last year, only 15,000 transplants were performed in the United States.
For Flores, her son's choice to become a donor profoundly changed her perspective following his death. She is now an advocate for organ donation and volunteers for Lifesharing, the nonprofit, federally designated organ and tissue recovery organization serving the San Diego region.
Deborah Flores' tattoo honors the loss of her son, Xusha, and his gift of life through organ donation.
"I can't bring him back, but he saved four people," Flores says. "When I meet organ recipients, and I see how grateful they are, that is worth everything. I can't explain how I feel just knowing my son was a part of that."
"I want my son to be remembered for what he did and how I'm so honored to be called his mom," she continues. "He left a hero."
You can join the Donate Life California registry by checking "Yes" at the Department of Motor Vehicles when applying for a driver's license or identification card. You also can sign up online in English and Spanish. One organ donor can save up to eight lives, and one tissue donor can improve the lives of up to 50 others.