Fourth graders in El Paso release balloons in memory of classmate


POSTED: Friday, November 22, 2013 - 6:34pm

UPDATED: Friday, November 22, 2013 - 7:19pm

Matthew Olivas Jr. passed away after receiving an artificial heart

Students and teachers at Herrera Elementary in El Paso's Upper Valley held a memorial ceremony Friday for Matthew Olivas Jr., 9.  Matthew passed away after battling a rare heart condition called "Ebstein's Anomaly."  He received an artificial heart October 30.  Everyone at the school wore red Friday, Matthew's favorite color.

"I think everybody, when we remember Matthew, we remember a big smile and big rosy cheeks," said Brent Sanders, Matthew's fourth grade teacher. 

Matthew's fourth grade class released white balloons into the sky in memory of their friend and classmate.  Students and teachers fought back tears as they remembered some of their fondest memories of Matthew.

"Matthew had the biggest smile and the biggest heart," said Isaiah Mendez, who described himself as Matthew's best friend.  He said he often played football with Matthew. 

"Football because you can throw and run," Matthew said in an interview with NewsChannel 9 earlier this year.

Because of his heart condition, Matthew couldn't run and play as hard as the other kids, but his classmates said he was looking forward to coming back stronger than ever after his surgery.

"Before he left he said when he came back from his heart surgery, he wanted to race Mr. Sanders because he'd be all better," said Jenna Cardona.

Sanders said Matthew explained his condition and the surgery to his classmates.  They were all pulling for him to make it through the operation. 

"He was very positive about it. He was nervous and he did show some anxiety a few times, and he shed a little bit of tears and he was scared. Of course, at the time, we told him it was all going to be okay. It's hard to look back and think was the eventual outcome was," said Sanders.

Sanders is trying to help the fourth grade class understand what happened. For now, the students are just trying to get used to Matthew's empty chair.

"The classroom would be funny, and we're missing someone in the family," said Cardona.

"There's not that much laughter, and his big smile isn't there anymore," added Mendez.

After the Thanksgiving break, the school will hold a Christmas tree lighting ceremony and vigil in Matthew's honor.  The tree will be decorated with only red lights, in honor of Matthew's favorite color.

After the holidays, the tree will then be planted on campus.

If you'd like to help Matthew's family with the expenses for his services, an account is open at Wells Fargo under the name Matthew Olivas Jr. 

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