PEORIA — Organ donation was something Kewanee resident Mario Massens always wanted to do, but only fate could decide if he would get the chance.

Last week fate decided he would.

Mario Massens, 63, was declared brain dead Aug. 7 after suffering a stroke. By then Mario’s wife had already spoken to a representative from Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network because the prognosis was bleak and she knew donation was what Mario wanted.

“That was definitely his desire,” said Deyna Massens. “He always had that sticker on his license when we lived in California. He’s always been like that. He used to ride a motorcycle, and he knew anything can happen. He lived crazy and he figured, well, I could donate.”

Early Friday morning Mario Massens became the 15th organ donor to be given an official honor walk before making his life-saving donation. Employees from all over OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center stopped what they were doing and went to the Neuro ICU to pay their respects. They stood in the hallway and listened to a tribute written by Mario’s family before Mario was wheeled to the operating room where transplant surgeons were waiting.

“It was really wonderful,” said Adam Massens, one of Mario’s three sons. “It was a short but really nice ceremony. It felt good.”

St. Francis is the first hospital in Illinois to do an official honor walk for organ donors. A committee started working on protocol for the walks in January, and the first walk happened in April.

“Social media started posting honor walks throughout the country, and it kind of spurred interest in our service area for providing them,” said Ruth Keith, donor liaison for the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network. “We wanted to establish some type of protocol for honor walks in hospitals and we turned to St. Francis because they are the leading hospital for organ and tissue donation in the state of Illinois.”

Most years St. Francis Medical Center is the No. 1 hospital in Illinois for organ and tissue donation.

“The hospital culture embraces donation,” said Keith. “There is full support for donation from the administration all the way down. And we couldn’t be successful without that type of support.”

In addition to honoring the patient, the walk provides a measure of solace not only to their families, but also to the caregivers, said Jill Arnold, patient care manager for the Neuro ICU at St. Francis.

“We always strive to save everybody — that’s why we are here, why we are nurses. So it’s heart wrenching when you know you can’t do any more,” she said. “So I think (organ donation) gives us some solace, to know that even though we are losing this patient we have cared for, that we are saving multiple lives in this process.”

OSF employees are invited to join honor walks with an alert sent over the hospital's computer system 30 minutes before a walk begins.

“We chose to include every single mission partner in our facility, not just the staff that is on the unit, or the staff caring for the patient. Housekeeping, pharmacy, food service, maintenance, lab, our learning academy, anybody that wants to be a part of this process is more than welcome,” said Arnold.

Even at 12:45 a.m. the hallway was full for Mario Massens' honor walk.

“It was a lot of people,” said Adam Massens. “It was a short but really nice ceremony. Each of us wrote something and my oldest brother put it all together. The nurses read the tribute because I don’t think a single one of us could have gotten through it.”

Mario was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. at the age of 10 with his grandparents.

“They were fleeing Casto and all that. He’d come from money but Castro decided to take it all away,” said Deyna Massens.

Mario quickly learned English and thrived in his new country. He had a big heart and a zest for life. Early in life he worked as a professional photographer and later got into computers. He was a good-hearted jokester who didn’t know a stranger, said his family.

“He was one of those kinds of people that, everywhere he went, met people and talked to people. He was very talkative and friendly,” said Deyna Massens.

An early life experience is likely what made Mario aware of organ donation.

“His mother lost a kidney when he was young, so I think that’s why he was so passionate about it,” said Deyna Massens. Then, just last year, his nephew, Miami resident Randy Cruz, had a kidney pancreas transplant. He would likely have died without it, a fact which reinforced Mario’s desire to donate, said his wife. So it’s particularly fitting that the transplant team was able to find matches for Mario's kidneys, as well as his liver.

Though the honor walk is optional for grieving families who have chosen organ donation, most have decided to have one, said Keith. Mario’s family didn’t even have to think about it.

“He would have loved it,” said his wife. “He loved pomp and circumstance.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.