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In death, toddler gives others a second chance at life

Amanda Castile won’t ever again be able to hug her 2-year-old son, Cayden Hunt, who died Sunday in Women & Children’s Hospital.

But because of Cayden, other parents will still have the opportunity to embrace their children.

Castile decided to donate Cayden’s organs to transplant recipients on a national waiting list.

A 5-year-old boy in New York City received Cayden’s heart.

“I just hope him and his family are filled with as much love and joy as I was with Cayden,” said Castile, who shared her story with reporters Monday in an effort to raise awareness about organ donation.

The boy’s intestines, liver, kidneys and pancreas also were recovered for transplant.

“Today, five or six other people are benefiting from what my son has to give,” said Castile. “He’s only 2 years old, and he’s benefitting kids and adults.”

Castile, 27, welled up with tears a couple of times while talking about Cayden. Knowing that her son’s organs could help save multiple lives was about the only thing keeping her from falling to pieces, she said.

Cayden became ill Friday and was taken to the hospital. Castile declined to discuss the specifics of the illness with reporters, but a Facebook effort to raise funds for a proper memorial for the boy said he suffered from bacterial meningitis.

Co-workers and friends of Castile organized a candlelight vigil Monday evening in memory of Cayden, in the parking lot of a Sam’s Club in Niagara Falls.

Cayden, who had curly dark hair and a squinty smile, enjoyed making people laugh.

“He was full of life. He was a clown,” said his mother.

If he saw someone laughing, he would continue doing whatever he could to make them continue, she added.

“You never knew what he was going to come up with,” she said.

Castile and Cayden’s father, Cheron Hunt, jointly decided to donate his organs, she said.

“People are on their deathbeds and my son is giving them a second chance at life,” she said. “He’s giving others ... a new hope, when all hope is lost for him.”

At any given time, about 122,000 people nationwide are on a waiting list for an organ transplant, and about 25,000 organ transplants are done annually, said Dr. Wayne Waz, medical director for organ services at unyts, a local nonprofit agency that facilitates organ, tissue, eye and blood donations. Those numbers alone show how great the need for organs is, he said.

Waz said he could not comment on the specifics of a particular organ donation or transplant.

But, in general, hearts and lungs must be recovered and transplanted within four to six hours.

A heart transplant recipient usually is prepped for surgery as soon as a heart is identified; the vital organ is flown as quickly as possible to a heart transplant center.

Kidneys and some other organs generally have up to 24 hours before they must be transplanted, he added.

As close as Waz is to the organ donation process, even he sometimes has trouble processing how parents decide to donate their children’s organs, he said.

“I personally can’t even imagine having to make that decision,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed by the grace and the courage and the difficulty of making that decision.”

Castile said she hasn’t had any contact with families that have benefited from Cayden’s organs.

“Honestly, I don’t know if I would want to chart that territory,” she said.

She takes some solace knowing Cayden’s heart still beats – even if it’s no longer inside him.

“It makes you feel like your son or daughter is living on, somewhere else,” she said.