Zorimar Betancourt is one of those people that I’ve grown to admire in the last few months that we’ve really gotten to know each other. We both shared our stories of resilience through the #YoNoMeQuito foundation, shared the stage as I interviewed her on Vive tu Nite, and we stood side by side when she allowed me to speak on behalf of her foundation at the March for Our Lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Today, she allowed me to peek into the source of the strength and perseverance that has made an impact in the way that many people live their lives after trauma or a tough situation.
It was a Sunday afternoon in June 2012 when Zorimar received a gut-wrenching phone call from her 17-year-old son, Stefano, (who was driving nearly 15 cars ahead of her) his voice showed signs of distress. “I’m driving the car, and they’re hitting me from the back,” he said, with fear shaking in his voice. Zorimar’s motherly instinct told her son to change lanes and to enter the emergency lane to let the car behind move past him. After continuous bumping from the back, Stefano did just that. Zorimar recalls he began to repeat the description of the vehicle and the number of the license plate numerous times. Then Zorimar stopped hearing his voice. The car that had hit him so many times accelerated past him opened fire and shot Stefano. Zorimar rushed to find the crashed car, and her injured son, blood gushing through his open wounds. Zorimar recounts the events of that day with such peace in her voice but wrapped with a sense of sadness that I cannot even begin to imagine.
Along with the help of strangers who approached her, and police officers who drove her back to her car when her nerves took over, they drove to the nearest hospital where he was transported via ambulance to find a doctor for immediate treatment. After nearly 4 days in the hospital, Zorimar received the aching news that her son was declared brain dead and passed away. A pain that nobody should ever need to experience. Some may have thought his life on earth ended that day, but Stefano had other plans.
Unknowingly, before Stefano’s death, he had already determined what his legacy was going to be. He had signed up to be an organ donor. Zorimar remembers being in the intensive care unit where one of the nurses had a tag with the LifeLink logo and a phone number. “(I felt like) they were going to kill my son. I don’t want this. They’re going to stitch him up in pieces,” she recalls. Due to the lack of information and knowledge about Life Link and their mission, that’s what Zorimar thought organ donation was about. “These are decisions that need to be talked about before a situation like this happens.” Shortly after Stefano’s passing, Zorimar decided that she wanted to turn a negative situation into something that would reflect the memory of her son and that would later help others. this happens, and that’s what I’m trying to accomplish.” But her efforts went beyond advocating for organ donation and motivating others to sign up to be that second chance in someone else’s life.
The years, after the event, were anything but smooth sailing. “I took spiritual trips; I got cancer and began chemo, but that didn’t stop me from being thankful and wanting to discover more about different saints that I know accompany me all around the world. But the thing that has helped me the most during this process has been the Stefano Foundation. It gives my life purpose; it’s his legacy, and I’m his voice. It’s something I’m going to do until the day I die. Be his voice.” Her willingness and her strength do these projects comes from the place of leaving a trail for her son’s legacy. Her incredible work ethic and her ability to draw people into her team, without expecting anything in return are absolutely remarkable to me. Zorimar has an incredible plan in mind. She has been the face of mothers who have lost their children, organ donors, children who need a voice, and a world that screams solidarity. Her dream is to complete those plans and to continue to work for the community to honor her son and those who have gone through similar situations. She dreams of a world with no violence, a world with art and education where people thrive to help others, and where her son’s memory prevails. It’s incredible how the foundation has grown and how it’s purpose has expanded into such beautiful things. What began as an effort to promote organ donation is now a foundation which comforts the parents of children who have passed away, that has helped with the hurricane relief efforts, that speaks to students about anti-violence, and that travels to the island of Vieques to give the gift of education, art, and purpose.
Zorimar is the most beautiful example of a woman who rose from the ground up, and who turned unimaginable pain into selflessness and love. She’s patient, she’s determined, she’s strong. She’s an inspiration to so many men and women across the island, and she’s also my inspiration for this week.