Better Health and Wellness: 25-year-old Wichitan breathing for Nebraska man in double lung transplant

Better Health & Wellness

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Zach Mendoza was known for his sweet tooth and servant’s heart.

Father Joe Rodriguez said Zach always had candy and a Coke on hand. He worked for Connie’s Mexico Cafe and the Warren Old Town Theatre Grille, serving food to guests.

When he was just 15 years old, Zach elected to be an organ donor on his driver’s license.

He saw his aunt struggle going through dialysis and needing a kidney transplant and made the selection himself.

“Zach, I think recognized that need that she had,” father Joe Rodriguez said.

Shannon, lung recipient
(courtesy Joe Rodriguez)

Unfortunately, Zach’s wishes for organ donation were honored early on when he died unexpectedly in April 2019 at only 25 years old.

“He was just kind of starting to find out who he was and what he could be and how special he was around people, how much they loved him, and how he could use that in his life to help others,” Rodriguez said.

For the Mendoza-Rodriguez family, healing came from Zach’s legacy living on in the bodies of other people.

Through the Midwest Transplant Network, Zach’s organs (heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and lungs) went to four different men ages 21 to 67.

Of the men, a Nebraska man named Shannon received Zach’s lungs in a double transplant two days after Zach died. Shannon deemed April 22, 2019, the day of the transplant, as his “new birthday.” He proudly wears a shirt that says “Our Hero Zachary” with a set of lungs screen-printed on the front.

Zach’s mother, Lisa Mendoza-Rodriguez, got the opportunity to hear her son’s lungs in Shannon’s chest through a stethoscope.

“It is truly beautiful,” she said.

While the family grieved Zach’s death on Easter weekend 2019, the following year brought new hope.

Rodriguez’s sister received her long-awaited kidney transplant that had inspired Zach to register as a donor on Easter weekend 2020.

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