01/13/2013 10:37 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stefano Steenbakkers Betancourt Case: Mother Transforms Puerto Rico's Violence Into Hope Through Organ Donation

When Zorimar Betancourt received a call from her son, Stefano Steenbakkers-Betancourt on June 24 to tell her that thugs were following him and ramming his car from behind, she never thought it would be the last time she would hear his voice.

Victim of an attempted carjacking in the town of Dorado, Puerto Rico, Stefano was just 17, and his case was one of the most prominent murders that shook the island last year, and became another statistic of the crime wave it has been facing in recent times.

Stefano died in the hospital after being shot in the head by the thieves, who fled without taking anything. However, he didn’t leave this world without first accomplishing one of his most important desires: becoming an organ donor -- a wish he had made official by registering as a donor on the day he obtained his driver's license.

When asked about what reminds her the most about her son, Betancourt without hesitation says it is his smile, and the way he enlightened a place with his presence, the same light that won the hearts of his friends and all the people of Puerto Rico after his death.

Today his mother embarks on a new challenge, traveling in search of the five special people who received a new opportunity of life thanks to organs donated by her first-born child. She says they represent a small piece of her son’s legacy to the world, and a testament to the great person he continues to be now through them.

Betancourt has been able to find three of them, his pancreas, heart and kidneys recipients, but she is still searching for those that received his lungs and liver. The family hopes the two remaining organ recipients, learn about their story, and feel the desire to voluntarily approach them, since according to the mother, "there's always room for one more to love."

Apart from continuing with her jewelry design business, after the death of her son, along with her youngest daughter, Betancourt has formed Fundación Stefano Steenbakkers-Betancourt, which raises awareness about the importance of organ donation, and provides an award scholarship for an outstanding high school student.

Beyond the pain caused by the loss of Stefano, the mother feels that the creation of the organization is a way to continue the work he started before his death, that of changing the world, which the young man aspired to do through his university studies and professional goal of becoming a dignitary.

Her job now, she said, is to educate the community in and outside of Puerto Rico, about how organ and tissue donation is a gift of life that costs nothing and yet it is invaluable. As it is the case of those five people that carry today a very special piece of her child, and who have also became a very special part of her.



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