How NASCAR driver is honoring Las Vegas organ donor

Posted Friday, 21 February 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

The stock cars in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway will be decorated with sponsor logos for companies that sell everything from beverages to auto parts. But for Joey Gase, the design on his Chevrolet’s hood is more personal. Gase is using the coveted space to honor organ donors, paying tribute to Montana Amato, a Las Vegan who donated her organs, tissue and bone marrow after dying in 2018 from complications of asthma at age 28. It’s a story that resonates with Gase, whose mother was a donor to 66 recipients after suddenly dying from a brain aneurysm in 2011. Spreading the message about how one donor can make a significant difference has become Gase’s passion. He wants the thousands at the track on Sunday — and the millions watching from home — to keep an eye on the Nevada Donor Network wrapping on his car as it goes around and round. If they look closely at the hood, they will see messages of “donors are life givers” and “the ultimate gift” surrounding neon green, blue and pink handprints. Amato’s picture also will be displayed. Amato’s family attended a “Handprints of Hope” ceremony Thursday to decorate the car. Her parents, Deborah and Tony, were the first to put gloves on their hands, brush them with the festive paint and press them against the black vinyl that will wrap Gase’s hood. They also received an award from U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev. Deborah Amato still gets emotional when speaking about her daughter, raving about all of her accomplishments at a young age. “She would be totally embarrassed” about being honored, Deborah Amato said. Her daughter rowed and played softball. She was a cadet with the Civil Air Patrol and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps. Later, with the Coast Guard, she flew a plane and helped recovery victims killed in a personal watercraft accident, her mother said. In her free time, she cherished helping the downtrodden, volunteering in the homeless and veteran communities. She was well-traveled, experiencing France, Ireland, Scotland and London for the Olympics. “She is just the biggest, most generous heart,” the mother said in present tense, and that’s because she says she still feels her presence. Gase said that although he’d never met Amato, he read enough about her to know “she was an amazing young girl.” When Gase’s mother died, hospital staff asked the family if she was an organ donor. But they had no way to tell — her purse with her identification was at home. They suspected she would be a donor, because she was a selfless person always looking to help others. That’s why it wasn’t much of a surprise when they checked her ID and saw that she was already a designated donor.  A novel concept before his mother’s death, organ, eye and tissue donation is now something Gase wants everyone to know about. “It gets a lot of attention,” he said. “It’s a win-win.” He hopes his distinctive car designs continue to drive conversation and help the message spread to mass audiences. He’s partnered with Donate Life America networks across cities he’s raced in to honor a donor like Amato. Gase has been racing since age 8, but his mother died right as he’d entered the NASCAR circuit. He wishes his mom could see him compete, or to have been there when his twins were born. She likely would have also been proud about his generous efforts, but he won’t be the one who says it. Instead, he focuses on those positively affected by organ donation.  “It makes everyone one big family,” he said. “It’s really cool to see how big of an impact it really makes on everyone.”

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