Tevlin: Little Earth teen changed lives

  • Article by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 20, 2013 - 10:06 PM

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Shortly before 9 a.m. on April 12, Cassandra Flores got the call she’d been waiting for: The University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital had a donor heart for her 16-year-old son, Trinidad.

“We were really excited and we were crying,” said his mother, who raced to South High School to bring “Trini” to the hospital. He had suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy for two years. This was going to be the start of a new life.

The 14-hour surgery went well. A room was set up for tribe elders and family to hold vigil. But a couple of hours later, “he crashed and his blood pressure dropped out,” said Cassandra. He had a massive stroke.

Word spread around Little Earth, a poor housing development in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis where the gregarious Trini had become a leader and mentor to other teens. Perhaps 200 of them filled his hospital room and flowed into the hallways. There were so many friends, some had to stay downstairs and come in shifts.

After all, Trini was the one with the quick smile and kind word, the first one to volunteer for an event and the last one to leave. He was the kid who raised the most money for the Indian Cancer Foundation and who brought food to elders.

If Little Earth had a program, Trini was in it, and usually led it. In a neighborhood where many kids don’t graduate from high school, he had diligently put money in a college fund. Not long ago, he was looking for a promise ring for his girlfriend, Danielle Pineiro.

“That’s the girl I’m going to marry,” he told everyone.

Their relationship “gave new meaning to the term ‘first true love,’ ” said his grandmother, Leona Flores.

The teen who still wrote his mother lovely letters, called her “mommy,” and dragged her everywhere, was so thoughtful that when he was 6 he said: “Mommy, I want to be an owner.”

“A what?”asked his mother.

“You know, when you die and give your organs to someone else.”

Trini recently got his driver’s license and made sure his status as an organ donor was on it.

Trini died at 12:55 Wednesday, but he was kept on life support so he could fulfill his childhood wish.

• • •

It is Indian tradition to start a bonfire when someone dies, to provide light for the spirit on its way to heaven.

So Trini’s friends gathered wood Thursday and started a fire that will burn for four days. As they worked, a heavy snow began to fall.

“That’s Trini,” said his aunt, Jolene Jones. “He loved cold weather and snow.”

Allicia Waukau knew Trini from Migizi Communications, a program that preaches success for American Indians. He was so proud of his heritage that when they were going to drop an Ojibwe language class he was taking, Trini started a petition and saved it.

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  • Friends keep a ceremonial fire burning for Trinidad Flores, 16, who died after a heart transplant, at his wake at the Minneapolis American Indian Center April 19, 2013. The fire burns for 4 days to light the way for his spirit.

  • Gregory Lovelace, right, comforts his sister, Cassandra Solis-Corona, left, and her mother Leona Flores, center, at the start of the 4-day wake for Solis-Corona's son Trinidad Flores, 16, at the Minneapolis American Indian Center April 19, 2013. Trinidad died after a heart transplant. (Courtney Perry/Special to the Star Tribune)

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