NEWARK, N.J. (CBS 2) – The NCAA Tournament came to New Jersey Friday night, as the North Carolina Tar Heels beat the Marquette Golden Eagles to advance to the Elite Eight.
It was four years ago that a special member of the Tar Heels gave the gift of life to four New Jersey residents in a tragic twist of fate, reports CBS 2′s Demetra Ganias.
As North Carolina got set to battle in the Prudential Center in Newark, hearts and minds lingered on Jason Ray. The UNC senior, and former team mascot, was struck by a car and killed in New Jersey four years ago while traveling with the team.
He was 21 years old, a lover of music and humanity.
“Did volunteer work, missionary work, Haiti, Honduras – just an exceptional young man,” Ronald Griffin said.
Ronald should know – he received Jason’s heart, a gift of life that sparked a special bond with Jason’s parents.
“Not only did I get a second chance at life, but I have more people in my life to love and who love me,” he said.
Ronald’s not alone. The Ray family has also embraced Antwan Hunter of Newark.
“I count my blessings every day,” Antwan said. “I thank God for Jason.”
Antwan received Jason’s kidney at just 16 years old. He and Jason never met, but he feels a bond.
“Sometimes, I talk to him before I go to sleep or when I wake up, and I just tell him, ‘thank you,’” he said.
Antwan and Ronald are the lucky ones, receiving precious organs before time ran out.
“Eighteen people every day die waiting for an organ,” Joe Roth, president and CEO of New Jersey Sharing Network, said. “We can’t take them with us when we die.”
Ronald said the gift game him a renewed zest for life, thanks to a special soul.
“I’m a brand new me, on all levels,” Ronald said.
In all, Jason Ray saved four lives – his liver and pancreas were also given to New Jersey residents.