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‘She was a giver, always’: Young Valley cornea, tissue donor featured on race car for NASCAR race this weekend

Joey Gase’s race car’s bumper will bear Gloria Estrada’s name and image this weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

AVONDALE, Ariz — If one ADOT MVD parking lot could tell a full-circle story, it’s the one in Mesa near Greenfield and Baseline roads. 

It was at 18 years old, at that MVD, that Gloria Estrada registered to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.

Something her parents would need to know six years later.

“It was actually the morning of Gloria’s 25th birthday and she wasn’t feeling well,” Joey Estrada, Gloria’s father said.

Her parents recall how she had had panic attacks before, that’s what Gloria thought it was.

But, it wasn’t.

“Multiple massive strokes,” Melissa Garza said. “Right away we started asking, okay, so you know the outcome is going to be the outcome. But what can we do to continue to help others? We talked about donation. We realized she is a donor.”

It’s unsurprising, especially, as the parents describe their thoughtful, giving daughter.

“She would give gifts and it was exactly what you didn’t know you wanted,” Joey Estrada said.

“She was just so thoughtful about everything,” Garza said.

In her death, Gloria was able to donate her tissue, corneas, hair, and her entire body for research.

“It brings me comfort to know that’s what maybe her purpose was,” Garza said. 

But back to that parking lot, the one at ADOT’s MVD, in front of a few dozen people, a green and blue painted race car is revealed from under a black cloth. The back bumper bore Gloria’s senior prom photo, with the words “donor hero” written under her name.

Joey Gase will be behind the wheel of that very car this weekend at Phoenix Raceway. Gase understands well that decision to give. 

“In April 2011, my mom passed away of a center brain aneurysm,” Gase said. “And when that happened, the doctors asked us if she liked to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.” 

The family, Gase says, didn’t know that she was in fact a registered donor.

“She was able to help save and improve the lives of 66 people, which was amazing to us, you know, we thought it could be three or four, we didn't know how big of an impact really, you know, one person could make,” Gase said. 

Since his mom’s death, Gase said he’s been trying to do what he can to raise awareness about organ, eye and tissue donation, and honor those affected too. 

“People are going to hear my mom’s story, and Gloria’s story and hopefully go register to be organ donors as well,” Gase said.

Knowing that their gifts and their stories can help more people too.

“She was a giver, always, so this is just a continuation of her story. It’s what she would want,” Joey Estrada said. 

If you’d like to sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor, you can do so at DonateLifeAZ.org.

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