Families share pain and joy in Wall of Heroes dedication

Three years ago on Oct. 28, Payton Manzingo, then 16, was on the phone with her father, Noel, and the two were discussing their plans for the evening. He was working at the family’s jewelry store in Jasper, and his plan was to take his daughter to the Cedar Tree restaurant. She was on her way to meet him at the store.

Just a few minutes later, 37-year-old Manzingo stepped outside – and dropped dead.

“We hadn’t been off the phone 15 minutes,” said Payton. A brain aneurism took the life of the outwardly healthy Manzingo and stunned his family, especially his mother, Gloria, a former city councilwoman who was working at the jewelry store that day, as well. She said she walked outside and saw her son lying on the ground.

“I thought he was playing a joke,” said Gloria, as Noel had a reputation as a practical joker who, in addition to helping run the jewelry business, also worked as a welder and mortician and as anything else that was needed.

“He loved to joke,” said Payton, who is following in her father’s footsteps by attending school to become a mortician. The Manzingos, along with 11 other families, shared their stories and tears Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 15, at Christus St. Elizabeth in Beaumont as the hospital dedicated its Wall of Heroes to those who, like Manzingo, donated their organs to others.

“The greatest thing we can do is to help other people,” said Father Joe Mundadan, who blessed the recently painted murals on the walls of the second and sixth floors of the ICUs with prayers and holy water. The murals, which were painted by students from Memorial and Port Neches-Groves, were selected from a total of 40 submitted designs. Families and friends of the 12 donors posed for a picture in front of the walls and some were even joined by the nurse who took care of their loved one.

“We as nurses get very attached to our patients,” said Mary Eagan, chief nurse executive of the Christus Hospital system’s Southeast Texas region.According to Christus, when a patient loses brain reflexes and is pronounced brain dead, the hospital contacts Southwest Transplant Alliance, which then discusses the option of organ donation with the patient’s next of kin. In the event the patient is an organ donor, the consent is already obtained. After consent, the Southwest Transplant Alliance matches organs with patients in need.

“I really think the wall has made a difference,” said Kathy Rodgers, director of trauma at Christus St. Elizabeth. “Because people are in the waiting areas and they’re looking at it, seeing the impact that it makes. And when you speak to the family about the organ donations, I think the photos hanging up are really going to make a big difference. You’ve got different cultures, different age groups, races, and both males and females.”

Nine patients have had their organs donated this year.

For Gabe Hernandez and Gina Seinsheimer, both of whom work for Southwest Transplant Alliance, they have the task of talking to the families and asking during a very difficult time if they would like to donate their loved one’s organs.

“I call it a gift from God; honestly, I don’t know how I do it. Basically I just walk in their holy ground,” said Seinsheimer, who worked with Fedro Gatlin’s family among many others in the 10 years she’s been approaching families about organ donation.

“I talk to families about the kind of person they were, and were they a loving, giving person. Were he to see someone drowning or see someone on the street that was needing help, or needing CPR, would he have been the type of person to stop and help? That’s kind of how I approach it because most people would throw a drowning person a life saver,” Seinsheimer said.

Hernandez, who’s been with the Southwest Transplant Alliance for 12 years, said national statistics indicate 82 percent of families agree to organ donation.

The hour-long ceremony brought up a lot of memories for both the families and nurses alike, as the donors came in all ages, and their causes of death were as random as a freak occurrence like Manzingo’s to a senseless murder like that of Beaumont native Gatlin, who died on May 1 in surgery after being shot in the head while riding a bicycle.


His murder remains unsolved.


His son, Fedro Gatlin III, a sophomore at Ozen, attended the ceremony with other family members. He’s still coping with his father’s loss.

“It just hurts,” Gatlin said, “I mean, they didn’t have to kill him.”

While Gatlin hopes his father’s murder is eventually solved, he does take some solace in knowing that his father helped preserve or enhance someone else’s life.

“It was a good thing he saved lives,” said a somber Gatlin, “so those people don’t have to feel the way we feel.”Fred Davis can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 227, or by e-mail at fred [at] theexaminer [dot] com.