|Birth: ||Aug. 19, 1982|
|Death: ||Apr. 29, 2006|
A former Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq has died, five days after being shot on Chicago's northwest side. Family members say 23-year-old Ricky Martinez was with friends after attending a Chicago Cubs game earlier in the day. Martinez was sitting in the car Monday when he was hit by gunfire. Martinez died yesterday at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.
Ricky's family donated his heart to another marine, Brian Troy.
Brian Troy is constantly reminded of the fellow Marine who saved his life.
Every time his heart beats.
Brian Troy of Rockford, a Marine in the 1980s, endured several surgeries before receiving a new heart in 2006. The parents of Ricky Martinez grew eager to meet the man who received their son's heart after a series of phone calls.
(Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times)
Troy lost 40 pounds and was in a coma for a month before he received a heart transplant in 2006.
He was not certain who the donor was, but he suspected it was a young Marine whose murder was in the headlines.
Troy, 43, sent several letters to the donor's family through the Gift of Hope organ donor network. The network would not disclose the name of the donor or his family members.
The donor's father finally replied in December.
And Troy -- a Marine in the early 1980s -- learned his hunch was right: He was carrying the heart of murder victim Ricky Martinez Jr., 23, a Marine who patriotically signed up after 9/11 and served two tours in Iraq.
"His heart seems to fill my chest," Troy said. "When I sit in my recliner, the whole recliner twitches with his heartbeat. ... I think they are happy their son's heart went to a good person."
Last month, Martinez's parents trekked to visit Troy at his home in Rockford, where they cried, laughed and shared childhood photos of their son. Troy hopes to see them again Saturday in Chicago to promote organ donation and support legislation to stiffen penalties for attacks on veterans.
The tragedy that saved Troy's life happened in a flash of gunfire April 24, 2006.
Martinez was driving from a Cubs game when one of his passengers was mistaken for a rival gang member. Steven Bryant fired a .45-caliber pistol at Martinez's car, Cook County prosecutors say.
A bullet hit Martinez in the shoulder and traveled up his neck to the base of his skull. Bryant, a 22-year-old already convicted of a killing and on the street again, was arrested and charged with murder.
Five days after the shooting, Martinez died.
The next day, Troy received an urgent call from Loyola University Medical Center that a heart was ready for him.
Troy is an electrician who suffered through many heart surgeries between 2002 and 2006. His mother also suffered from heart disease and died in 1996 at age 51.
After surgery in February 2006, Troy was in a coma at Loyola for about a month. He returned home in April 2006 to wait for a heart.
"This was it, live or die," Troy said of the call from Loyola to rush to the hospital to receive a new heart.
He and his wife jumped into their Hyundai, and she drove 100 mph.
"I was half praying the cops would not stop us and half praying they would," Troy joked. "I had a motion-picture fantasy that we would get a police escort."
After an 11-hour operation, Troy woke up in a sunny room.
"I came to the realization that I have a heart. I am alive! And I am hungry!"
His wife, Denise, said she asked a nurse about the new heart.
"I said, 'Is there anything you can tell me about the donor?' She said, 'No, only that it's a healthy 23-year-old.' Well, from the newspapers, we were 99 percent sure it was Ricky Martinez's heart."
'My son had such a big heart'
Troy sent his first letter to Martinez's family about four months after the transplant, but there was no answer. More than a year later, he sent another letter. Then, about three months ago, just after Christmas, Troy received a letter from Martinez's father, Ricardo Martinez Sr., confirming Martinez was the donor.
The next day, Martinez's father called.
Troy said he stared at the caller ID and refused to pick up the phone. He wasn't ready to talk to Martinez's family.
But the phone rang again, and this time, he summoned the courage to answer.
"There was a lot of crying and a lot of talking," he said.
Troy slowly began to learn about his hero. Martinez had applied to the Chicago Police Department. His father told Troy that the Police Department sent Martinez an acceptance letter. It arrived a month after his death.
"We chitchatted about what a great son Ricky was. He was kind of a mama's boy, and he was a respectful son. His father was proud he was going to become a cop."
Troy and Martinez's parents grew close over the phone and decided they needed to see each other.
So on Feb. 10, Martinez's family made the trip from Chicago to Rockford. Troy hugged Martinez's mother at the door.
"She brought family albums of Ricky when he was small," Troy said. "I loved his big, cheesy smiles. I was only privy to his picture as a Marine, and he's not smiling in that one."
Troy learned that Martinez was more than 6 feet tall and a fitness buff. "Ricardo told me that his heart needs a lot of exercise," Troy said. "He said, 'You need to exercise for him.' "
Now Troy thinks of himself as part of Martinez's family.
And Martinez's mother, Adalila Cruz, feels the same bond.
"I love him because part of him is my son," she said of Troy.
"He is part of my family. He seems very grateful and thankful for what my son did. It shows you what kind of a person my son was. Even after his life was gone, he kept helping."
Cruz said some of her son's other organs also were donated to sick people.
"I would like to meet those people," she said. "But my main concern was that I meet the person who got his heart. My son had such a big heart."
Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery
Plot: SECTION 10, SITE 1202
Created by: Breadlady45 from Chicago
Record added: May 01, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14134567