ATCHISON, KS (KCTV) -– A father is sharing his son’s story to honor the gift of life the 15-year-old gave to five other people and their families through organ donation.
Doctors discovered Brugada syndrome, a rare heart rhythm disorder, caused Rocky Delfs to collapse on the Atchison High School track on August 26th.
Not long after Rocky and his family moved from Arizona to Atchison, KS, the COVID-19 pandemic began. His father, Bill Delfs, says Rocky excelled during virtual classes but could not wait to make new friends and join his high school’s cross-country team.
The Atchison High School athletes Rocky wanted to join now run six laps for a reason. One lap for Rocky and five more for the five lives Rocky saved.
“I’m a proud dad,” Bill Delfs said.
He remembers one of their first decisions as a family.
“When I was able to adopt them, I asked him what he wanted his name to be, and he wanted to be SpongeBob,” Delfs said. “He took two weeks to talk him out of that. He cried and cried and cried. He wanted Mario and Luigi with his twin brother, but his brother wouldn’t go for that. I talked to him about Rocky Balboa and he chose Rocky.”
Another decision came suddenly. “It wasn’t our decision, it was Rocky’s,” Delfs said. “He’s the hero.”
While waiting to complete a physical to officially join the cross-country team, Rocky hit the track after school to train on his own. He collapsed. A football coach who was nearby saw him. Several coaches rushed to perform CPR.
“They didn't hesitate one second to jump in,” Atchison High School Cross Country Coach Mike Nigus said.
Rocky was rushed to the hospital. His twin brother Alias agreed to be tested to help doctors discover what caused Rocky’s collapse.
“They said Brugada syndrome,” Delfs said.
Doctors and nurses tried to save Rocky, but they could not. Many people with Brugada syndrome don't have any noticeable symptoms. Rocky’s twin brother Alias has an appointment with a cardiologist to see if a defibrillator implant is needed.
“Rocky gave his life to save his brother’s life and Alias basically gave us the answers to what took his brother’s life,” Bill Delfs said. “In addition to that we were able to contact the kids’ biological mother and Alias was able to save his older brother’s life because he is being tested for Brugada syndrome.”
Around the country and here in the Midwest, hospital employees honor organ donors like Rocky with what’s known as a Hero’s Walk or Honor Walk to acknowledge organ donors, their families and the gift they give that is unlike any other.
“It was hard to do and hard to see but when we were notified later that day that those five people were doing good, I’m a proud dad,” Delfs said. “I’ve got a son who saved his brother and five other people. I have his twin brother who saved his other brother. I’ve got two heroes in my life.”
During the Honor Walk, doctors and nurses lined the hallway to honor Rocky with a solemn, touching tribute. A chaplain stood near him and said, “This day we stand with a hero. We are overwhelmed with the gift of life he is so generously sharing.”
“Five people’s lives were saved that same morning. I can only imagine the people who got that call,” Delfs said. “One of the placements was a 16-year-old who got my son’s lungs. My son was going to be sixteen on October 11th.”
Back on the track and nearby grassy hills, Rocky’s teammates are training with motivation to honor Rocky who wanted to be training and competing beside them. They will run for Rocky.
“We’ll wear shirts that say, “Run for Rocky” and we're going to go compete that race knowing fully that's a race that Rocky was going to be there to compete with us had he had the opportunity,” Nigus said. “I really hope it creates an opportunity for all of our athletes to help fulfill some of the goals that Rocky would have had.”
Nigus says his Rocky will leave a legacy behind through organ donation and the way he lived his life.
“Don't be scared to put yourself out there. Don't be scared to try new,” Nigus said. “That’s absolutely what Rocky stood for. In the times that I got to visit with him and meet him, where he was at and what he was doing, it was the big time.”
The Atchison community’s outpouring of support and tributes including lighting the local clock tower Rocky’s favorite color blue have helped Rocky’s family get through difficult days.
“I wanted my son to know how much he was loved,” Delfs said.
His community continues to help him do that.
The father hopes that sharing his son’s story might possibly encourage others to consider registering to become an organ donor. For more information about organ donations you can visit www.mwtn.org and www.organdonor.gov.