A second chance at life--and a Harley
Ortega is a co-founder of the Southern New Mexico Transplant Support Group and a devoted advocate for DonateLife New Mexico. He said he owes his life to a 17-year-old boy named Brandon Stratton, who died from injuries he suffered in an automobile accident.
"I consider Brandon Stratton my best friend," Ortega said. "I know if I take care of him, he will take care of me."
Ortega, his wife, Hilda Ortega, and the three neighbors Ortega fondly calls his "angels," had to make a mad dash across the desert one night in October 2003 so he could receive one of the first-ever dual kidney-and-pancreas transplants in medical history. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix gave him a hard and fast seven-hour window to get there, and Ortega made it in six, despite a blowout and a desperate search for a town with a gas station. Escorted to the Arizona border by four New Mexico State Police cars, Ortega and his entourage received permission from the Arizona State Police to speed without being stopped. Ortega said their average speed that night was between 100 and 105 miles per hour.
Las Cruces Sun-News, by Jeff Barnet, April 14, 2010