Family Donates Organ to Save a Friend

by Morgan Hill, CCAD Public Affairs

COL Allan H Lanceta makes his first speech as CCAD commander.

Derrick Zapata, Manuel Gonzalez III, Alex Zapata, and Arnold Zapata came together to share Eddie Zapata's story.. Photo by Morgan Hill (RELEASED)

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (September 9, 2016) -- The team at Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) often regards their workplace as a second home and their coworkers as a second family. This is an understatement for one incredible family who pushed passed their grief to honor such a friendship on one fateful day.

Edward (Eddie) Zapata started working at Sikorsky as a product control material handler this past April. Within two months, he received his forklift and scooter licenses and was excited to contribute to the depot. Eddie wore his new title like a badge of honor.

Eddie has many friends and family working around the depot, including his brother, Arnold Zapata, pattern maker in Jigs and Fixtures. Arnold began working in CCAD 2006 and befriended Manuel Gonzalez III, an aircraft sheet metal mechanic. Through their work around the depot, Arnold, Eddie and Manuel formed a strong bond and friendship.

In October of 2014, Manuel retired from the depot after 33 years of service. He stayed close to the Zapata family, even though he was limited by a chronic kidney disease. Manuel confided his condition in Arnold and a few others.

The morning of July 14, 2016, Eddie suffered a major heart attack while preparing for work. He was taken to Spohn Shoreline Hospital where doctors successfully removed the blockage in his artery. His neurological function remained unknown.

Eddie's family remained hopefully optimistic and prayed for him to recover.

After leaving his own kidney doctor July 20th, Manuel received a text message stating that "it was over." Eddie Zapata had passed away. Manuel rushed to the hospital to be with the Zapata family. Never once thinking of himself or his own condition.

As Eddie's sons, Alex and Derrick, made funeral arrangements along with their uncle Arnold, they discussed their thoughts on organ donation. Alex had always been unsure about organ donations, but when Arnold told his nephews about Manuel's kidney disease and how he needed a transplant, everything changed.

With no hesitation, Alex and his brother, Derrick, decided that their father's kidney should go to Manuel.

The rest of that day was a blur.

The brothers called Manuel to tell him that they wanted him to have their father's kidney.

Within hours, Manuel was sent to San Antonio where doctors assessed his eligibility for a kidney transplant. Although initially denied due to a cancer misdiagnosis, the doctors rechecked a spot found on Manuel's kidney. Cleared as a cyst from a previous biopsy, several tests were performed and doctors told Manuel that he and Eddie were a match. The odds of finding such a match are 1 in 100,000, and nothing short of a miracle.

By the end of the night, Manuel was on the surgery table receiving another chance at life.

"It was Manuel's kidney before any of us even knew it was his," Alex Zapata said, "Manuel now has three kidneys. Nothing was removed from him, he just now has an extra piece of my dad."

Manuel is much healthier now, thanks to Eddie, but he still gets overwhelmed with emotion when he looks back on that day. He was reinvigorated with a longer life that he could share with his wife and the friends that made him part of their family ten years ago.

The Zapata family decided to donate other organs as well including the lungs, liver, and the other kidney. "Eddie would give anything he could if given the opportunity," Alex said, "He is alive in three other people and can possible save the lives of thousands more" since the heart was donated to research.

This gift of life has helped the Zapata family remain positive after Eddie's passing. "He lived a full life in his 50 years. He is able to extend other's lives and we hope that the people on the other side of the donation are able to make the most of their life," Alex said.

The story didn't end the day Eddie suffered the heart attack. He lives on through his story and in the lives he saved. Eddie's sons are proud that their father lives on through one of his closest friends.

The family looks forward to eventually reaching out to the other families that received the organs. The Zapata family wears a green band signifying organ donation and hope to use their father's story to help others.

Learn more about organ donation and the Corpus Christi Army Depot at the links on this page.

Eddie Zapata's sons, Alex and Derrick Zapata, show their support for organ donation by wearing green armbands with kidney recipient and CCAD retiree, Manuel Gonzalez III. Photo by Morgan Hill (RELEASED)




Designated a Center of Industrial and Technical Excellence for rotary wing aircraft, Corpus Christi Army Depot ensures aviation readiness through overhaul, repair, modification, retrofit, testing, recapitalization, and modernization of helicopters, engines and components. This effort includes world-wide on-site field maintenance teams, analytical crash investigations and chemical material process facilities. CCAD serves as a depot training base for active duty Army, National Guard, and reserve units. CCAD, as South Texas' largest industrial employer, employs more than 5500 personnel and contractors providing an overall economic impact of more than $1.14 Billon to the local community.