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Turning tragedy into blessings: Family of teen caught in rip current help save others by donating organs

WRAL.comMay 25, 2019

The father of a 17-year-old girl who died in a rip current last month says he will see his daughter again, living on in the people whose lives she saved.

Paige Merical, of Wake Forest, drowned in a rip current off Emerald Isle while on spring break. Her classmate, Ian Lewis, 18, also died.

John and Suzi Merical were by their daughter’s side at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville before she was declared brain dead.

The Mericals said they knew Paige would insist on donating her organs so that others may live.

Tom Munoz, 68, from Huntsville, Ala., is one of those people.

“My brother texted me a comment, and he said, ‘John, this is probably crazy, but one of my best friends is near death from liver failure,’” John Merical said.

His brother has known Munoz for years through work and church. Since November, Munoz has been waiting for a new liver.

Merical said he had no idea if it was even possible.

Doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center told Munoz’s wife that a directed donation, a request made by a family to transplant an organ to a specific recipient, rarely, if ever, yields a perfect match.

But Munoz was a match for Paige’s liver.

“The next morning, she comes walking up to me and says, ‘Thumbs up,’ with a big smile on her face,” Merical said of a nurse.

Merical says five people have received his daughter’s organs.

He plans to meet Munoz this summer and to eventually meet every other recipient.

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