Hanah Salazar had to do something no mother ever wants to do at Valley Children’s Hospital: say goodbye to her firstborn child.
Salazar said some of her final words to her daughter Francine were, “You know what, Mommy will be fine. We will all be fine; you go ahead and go to the light, to God.”
Wednesday, Aug. 7, the Salazar family started out as an ordinary afternoon. Salazar drove her van around Tulare County, California, picking up her children after completing their after-school programs.
That day, Salazar decided to take another route home so that on that hot summer day she could have a treat for her children.
“For some reason, I wanted to take them for ice cream. I was going to surprise them, actually. I didn’t tell them,” said Salazar.
The family never made it to the ice cream shop.
As they crossed a rural intersection, an out of town driver blew through a stop sign and slammed into the family van driving 60 to 80 miles an hour.
That moment would alter the family’s whole life.
All the children were wearing seat belts, but right after the crash, Salazar realized that her 10-year-old daughter Francine was silent, sitting in the back of the van.
“I can see my daughter’s head flapping, and it’s not stable, so I know there’s some injury. So they pulled her out and started CPR,” Salazar said.
It was a dose-only scene that Hanah can remember. It’s still a foggy memory a lot of that afternoon.
Salazar said she’s trying in life to remember Francine. For the fifth-grader, the summer was a fun one, filled with late nights watching K-pop videos and writing down her school year plans.
For her family and the staff at Cottonwood Creek Elementary School in Visalia, California, her sudden absence was crippling. Teachers returned to the devastating news on Monday and it was difficult for everyone to accept reality.
Although she was a nurse herself, Francine’s mother was in complete denial initially. But as the days went on, and more tests were done by doctors at Valley Children’s Hospital, the family had to accept their outspoken, compassionate and friendly daughter was brain dead.
“We know that Francine was given the best care here you could ever imagine. They did everything possible for us,” said Francine’s stepfather, John Blakely.
Francine’s family made the difficult decision to donate her organs despite the tremendous pain they were in.
They said that knowing Francine, she would have wanted to make this life-saving gift.
“My daughter is a caring, loving, selfless person, and she would help everybody before herself,” Salazar said.
The physicians, nurses, and staff at Valley Children’s Hospital in Madera, California, wanted to honor Francine, so they held an honor walk for the first time in the history of the hospital.
They lined the hallway to honor the gift that the fifth-grader gave through her sudden and heart-wrenching death as she was taken to the operating room.
Her mother did her hair for the last time just before Francine went into the operating room. She put it in a braid.
Officials with the Donor Network West said six lives would be saved from her organ donation, and 75 other people would be healed.
The crash is still being investigated by the California Highway Patrol. But the death of Francine changes the charges that the driver might face; involuntary homicide is a powerful possibility.