It’s been more than a year since Justin Elzinga’s sudden and untimely death.
But the20-year-old Kennewick man known for his infectious smile and loving spirit continues to do good — and he’ll be recognized for that Wednesday in Olympia.
Gov. Jay Inslee is honoring organ donors from around the state, including Elzinga, as part of National Donate Life Month.
Justin’s parents, Jeff and Becky Elzinga of Kennewick, will be on the hand for the ceremony, along with Justin’s brother, Cody Beenken.
“It’s going to be very emotional for us,” Becky Elzinga told the Herald. “It’s an honor to be part of this event.”
Justin died in January 2017 after suffering a brain aneurysm while packing for spring semester at Washington State University in Pullman.
The 2015 graduate of Kamiakin High School was planning a career in viticulture. He dreamed of opening his own winery.
He would have been a natural at it, friends and family said. He was magnetic, charming, warm and funny — the kind of guy who never met a stranger.
“He had the biggest heart,” Gabby Naccarato, his longtime girlfriend, told the Herald last year.
Justin was an organ donor, and that big heart — plus his lungs, kidneys and liver — saved the lives of four people.
Bobby Nakihei is one of them. The Everett man struggled for years with congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation, until Justin’s heart and one of his kidneys gave him a second chance.
He’s grown close to Justin’s parents, traveling to the Tri-Cities last summer to thank them face-to-face and allow them listen to their son’s heart, beating on in his chest.
“I’m so grateful. I don’t know whether I should call (the Elzingas) Mom and Dad. I’m older than them, but I have that legacy of their son in me,” Nakihei said. “There’s no way I could have had a second chance if it wasn’t for Justin.”
Nakihei runs a restaurant in Lynnwood, and the Elzingas plan to swing by while they’re on the west side.
They miss Justin so much. They’ll miss him forever.
But becoming friends with Nakihei, and knowing that their son is still helping others — that’s meaningful.
“Every day is still hard. But I know that five of his organs are out there and (the recipients) are doing so well,” said Becky Elzinga, who’s become an organ donation advocate. “Justin is our hero.”