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In this photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, drawing remarkable strength from a strong Christian faith, Pricilla and Tony Yang, of Rochester, Minn., talk of losing their 8-year old son, Christian, to a brain aneurysm last month.

Minn. boy's final gift helps 5 lives

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — At the age of 8, Christian Yang knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.

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"When I grow up, I want to be in law enforcement or a firefighter. I want to help people," Christian would tell his father, Tony Yang.

Christian never got the chance to fulfill those career dreams. But the Rochester boy did help the lives of five people he never met. After Christian suffered a fatal brain aneurysm on Oct. 25, his parents made the decision to put him on life support for two additional days so that his heart valves, kidneys, liver and spleen could be donated to others.

At his son's bedside, Tony Yang explained his decision to his youngest child.

"While I was with him, I said to my son, 'I know I did not get a word from you about donating your organs, but I know in your lifetime you always put other people first and you always wanted to help other people.'"

Every year, more than 100,000 people are on a waiting list for an organ transplant, according to LifeSource Organ Procurement manager Joshua Korthouse. Children on the waiting list face major challenges finding a donor because they not only have to have the same blood type, but the organ has to be the right size.

"A child who is able to donate is an amazing gift to a family who has been praying for a long time for a chance for their child to live," Korthouse said.

Sitting in their Rochester living room, Christian's parents gazed at photos of their grinning son as they recalled his love of cars, hanging out with his dad outside and playing the piano.

"He was a really, really talented kid. Really smart. His smile warmed everyone's heart as soon as they saw him," his mother, Pricilla Yang, told the Post-Bulletin.

His parents agree he was remarkably mature for his age and proved to be a natural-born leader among his peers.

"My son is 8-years-old and there were so many kids who wanted to be like him. That just blows my mind," his father said.

Christian started getting serious headaches and fevers in July. His mother said they took him to the doctor and were told it probably was migraines. But the problems persisted on and off. In October, his condition grew more severe to the point where his neck was stiff and he had trouble walking. Despite repeated medical visits, doctors were unable to make a diagnosis, his parents said.

The day before he died, his mother said she came home to find her son walking upright without any pain for the first time in weeks. He wanted to go to the mall to get materials to make rubber band friendship bracelets. They spent three hours together hanging out, and his mom treated him to pizza and frozen yogurt topped with gummy bears. Later that night, he played his favorite song for his mother on the piano.

The next morning, Christian's grandmother was unable to wake him. He had stopped breathing.

The parents said they have received tremendous support from their family, friends and co-workers during this difficult time. Even some strangers have reached out to offer their condolences. They also are relying on their Christian faith.

"It is heartbreaking. It is painful that my son left us," Tony Yang said. "All we can think is that he is in a better place. No more pain, no more suffering. And I know, for a fact, he is with God."

Christian's three siblings all made him a rubber band friendship bracelet and placed it on an orange stuffed dinosaur that was buried with the third-grader, along with a toy car.

The couple said their decision to donate Christian's organs has been hard for some in the family because organ donation remains uncommon in the Hmong community. But they said they hope that one day they will understand this is their way of helping make sure their son lives on.

"My son can help other kids out there to chase their passions, reach their goals and reach their dreams," he said.

Korthouse said organ donation still is relatively new. He said families such as the Yangs can help spread awareness about its importance by simply being willing to share their story. As for Christian, he said there's no doubt about it — he's a hero to those organ recipients.

He added, "He has given them a whole new chance at life."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. 

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