Local family honors loss with hope for others
Sonora High School student starts Donate Life Club in honor of his younger sister.
By Christina Ledesmaa
La Habra Journal
It is said that the love of family is one of life’s greatest blessings. It is also said that you can give without loving, but you can never love without giving. One Sonora High School student has shown that this love of family and giving carries on.
Caleb Choe, a sophomore baseball player, created the Donate Life Club on campus in honor of his younger sister Erin, who drowned in 2006 when she was 5 years old. The family donated her organs in order to help others live.
“They were able to recover her corneal tissue, which gave sight to two people,” said Caleb. “So after that, we were invited to a donor ceremony, and ever since then we were involved in Donate Life.”
Caleb’s mother Jennifer was also inspired to help others in the wake of this tragedy. She is a big advocate for organ donation and has been involved with Donate Life California since April 2007.
“It’s a God-given calling to our family to carry out this mission,” she said.
As an advocate, Jennifer speaks at different organizations and has helped work to increase the number of organ donors listed through the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“We want to celebrate, instead of grieving of her not being here,” she explained. “We want to celebrate Erin’s life, the five years and nine months we had. All the things that she enjoyed, all the passions. She loved people and she loved doing things.”
Caleb was only 8 years old when he lost his younger sister; now that he is older, he wants to carry on his family’s tradition and participate in Donate Life.
“I was inspired by the donors’ and recipients’ stories. I wanted to help them and also spread the word about organ tissue donation,” he said.
Since September 2011, Caleb has been an ambassador for Donate Life California. He started the Donate Life Club at Sonora last year and he is the third person in the country to establish such a club. His older sister Hannah was the first when she created the club at Sunny Hills High School three years ago.
Caleb himself became an outspoken advocate for organ donation and shares his family’s story, hoping to inspire others to become organ donors. He spoke at the La Habra City Council when the city proclaimed April as Donate Life month. He was also a guest speaker at the UCLA Pediatric Symposium at the UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, where he spoke to organ and tissue doctors.
Also, he recently spoke at a fundraising event to benefit Noah Litzau, a 10-year-old La Habra boy who is currently awaiting a heart transplant.
“I was a baseball coach for a winter camp and on the last day, the head baseball coach talked about how there’s a boy who used to be a camper [and] is now waiting for a heart,” Caleb said. “That whole recipient, waiting list and donor—I can relate to that.”
Since Litzau was unable to attend the baseball camp anymore, Caleb decided to bring the baseball camp to him. Caleb recruited some of the Sonora High School baseball players to give lessons to Litzau and his brother.
Caleb said he has learned a lot through baseball that has helped him cope with losing his sister and motivated him to participate in Donate Life.
“Baseball is all about teamwork and how you react to wins and losses. Especially losses,” Caleb said. “And how life isn’t always how you want it to be planned. It’s how you react to it.”
Whether it’s through baseball or speaking engagements, Caleb and his family continue to honor Erin’s memory by encouraging people to give of themselves so that others may have a second chance at life.