Everyone who met Sallustiano DeJesus – affectionately known by his family as "Chee-Chee" – found him to be a happy person, someone who truly enjoyed life. It came as such a shock to his relatives and friends when the 39-year-old father of two died in 2006, a week after suffering a stroke. But in death, as he did in life, Chee-Chee brought hope and joy to others. Mario Flores, 60, received his liver, and fifty-five-year-old Neal Bira, who will rider the Donate Life float in memory of Chee Chee, received his heart.
Sallustiano "Chee-Chee" DeJesus arrived in New York in 1986 from the Dominican Republic. The father of daughter Shianny and son Jeffrey, he was employed in a Queens bodega as a salesperson where he would usually work the late shift. In early August 2006, Chee-Chee arrived home at approximately 1 a.m. He ate, completed a few chores and then went to sleep as usual.
But the next morning, Chee-Chee's sister, Andrea DeJesus, found him in bed, unresponsive but with a faint pulse. Chee-Chee was rushed to St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital where Andrea was informed that he had suffered a stroke. When he suddenly went into kidney failure, Chee-Chee was placed on an emergency dialysis machine. Despite the medical team's determined efforts to save his life, Chee- Chee passed away on August 11. He was only 39.
When Chee-Chee finally gave up the struggle, Andrea and his mother, Leonora Munoz, authorized the donation of his organs, and as a result, two strangers are alive today. Neal Bira, who had suffered a massive heart attack in May 2006, received Chee Chee's heart. Neil, who has been married for 33 years and has a son, moved after his transplant from Brooklyn to Miami. Liver recipient Mario Flores is the father of three, a grandfather, and has been married for more than 40 years. Diagnosed with liver cancer, the Poughkeepsie resident was told that unless he received a transplant, he would only survive for a few months. Miraculously, as in Neil's case, Chee-Chee would become Mario’s savior.
On New Year's Day 2013, Neil Bira will ride the Donate Life float in memory of Chee Chee, whose floragraph will adorn the heart-filled float.