It's Her Journey

With each year the Rose Parade has grown to take on a stronger purpose, with floats that encourage organ donation, or awareness for HIV AIDS. This year, although not officially part of the parade, Bernie Sanders’ supporters are planning to march behind the last entry.

For those organizations who are approved to participate in the parade, having the ability to share their cause and message to a world wide audience is a tremendous opportunity. On New Years day, 40 million Rose Parade viewers will see the floats from the stands in Pasadena, and on television broadcasts worldwide.

The theme of this year’s parade is “Find Your Adventure,” and float entries are judged and given awards for the best work. But, for those entries with bigger missions, their goals are larger then creating a beautiful float.   

Donate Life, the nonprofit organization that facilitates and encourages organ donation, has an entry called “Treasure Life’s Journey” to feature both organ donors and the recipients who’ve received “this incredible gift.”

Granada Hills resident Nichole Platt is one of those donors who will walk alongside the Rose Parade float.

Piatt made the decision to donate in the middle of many family upheavals. She had just given birth to her daughter, when her mother died less than one year after her sister was diagnosed with stage four renal failure.

After recovering from childbirth and mourning the loss of her mother, she gave one of her kidneys to her sister — and gave her daughter a healthy aunt.

Through her story, the organization points out that 80 percent of people on the national transplant waiting list need kidneys from both deceased and living donors.

“More than 6,000 lives are saved each year by living kidney and living donors,”  said Tom Mone, chairman of the Donate Life float committee and CEO of OneLegacy, the nonprofit organ, eye and tissue recovery organization serving the greater Los Angeles area.

“The act of organ and tissue donation weaves together a tapestry of donors and recipients, of hope and remembrance, and beloved family and friends who live on through the most miraculous of gifts,” Mone said.

“The riders, walkers and floragraph honorees who will accompany the 13th annual Donate Life float each have an amazing story to tell. With more over 123,000 people waiting on the national transplant list today, we hope that these honorees will inspire millions more to register as organ donors.”

Their  float will feature 52 men and 44 women whose own journeys have been touched by organ donation and transplantation that will include:

 • 24 riders, who are organ and tissue recipients (or, in a few cases, are family members representing loved ones who were transplant recipients);

 • 12 walkers, ordinary men and women who made the remarkable but increasingly widespread choice of donating a kidney to a family member or even a stranger and;

• 60 “floragraphs,” portraits made from flowers depicting deceased donors whose legacies are celebrated by their loved ones.

The 96 honorees are from across the country, including men and women of every age, race and origin.

Float rider Miguel Santos, of Lancaster, New York, was able to see his firstborn  son because of a donated cornea he received from an unknown donor less than three months before his son’s birth in December of 1993.

A consumer advocate and church deacon, Miguel has dedicated years to helping others decide to donate life — and recently received a second tissue donation to repair his gums after complications from diabetes.

The organization points out that more than 40,000 patients have their sight restored every year through cornea transplants.

Floragraph honoree Maj. Kelley Chase was born in Taos, NM, and lived in Oklahoma City, OK. A veteran of the United States Air Force, an Oklahoma City police officer, and a husband and father or two, Chase — who died Oct. 13, 2012 — had decided early on to become an organ donor, signing up for the registry and noting his decision in his will.

Through his organ and tissue donation, six lives were saved. And float rider Ralph Howell of Edmond, OK, the man whose chest holds Kelley’s beating heart, has become “Grandpa Ralph” to Kelley’s children.

By sharing this story, the organization is able to educate the public that an  organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people by donating their heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas and small intestines, and enhance the lives of up to 50 people by donating their corneas, skin, bones, heart valves and more.

Other honorees include Brice Fabing, whose image will be on the float as a floragraph. He made the decision to be a donor only months before he died, providing lifesaving transplants to Jim Stavis (rider), whose rare blood type makes him an especially unlikely triple transplant survivor.

Father and daughter Ommy and Oceana Irizarry, also depicted on a floragraph, were killed by a plane crash. His wife and Oceana’s mother called donating their tissue in the wake of tragedy “the easiest decision I had to make.” And Carmen Tarleton (rider), who lost her sight, lips and the ability to breathe through her nose when her husband brutally attacked her with industrial strength lye, became the first successful recipient of a full face transplant from a less-than-complete match. She has also become a friend to her donor’s daughter, Marinda.

The Donate Life Float began on New Year’s Day 2004, prompted by lung recipient Gary Foxen as a way to show gratitude to the donors who made life-saving transplants like his possible, and to inspire others to become organ, eye, and tissue donors. For more information go to

For the fifth year in a row, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) will participate in the parade.

This year their float, “A Girl’s World of Adventure,” will have five 10- and 11-year-old girls who will be riders on the float. Three of the girls are HIV positive.

“Many people don’t realize that many babies still get the disease during childbirth,” said spokesman Ged Kenslea.

The girls are identified as : Gloria, 10, Glendale, AZ; Tatianna  11, Chicago, IL; Jenna, 11, Los Angeles, CA; Iliana, 10, Compton, CA and Sarah, 11, Seffner, FL.

“Three of the girls came to AHF’s attention via Project Kindle, a nationwide project for children impacted by HIV/AIDS,” Kenslea said. The organization, he said seeks to improve the quality of life of thousands for children, young adults, and families facing medical complications through recreational experiences, educational services, and support programs.

“Having traveled the world in my job at AHF, I have seen firsthand what an incredibly important issue the plight of girls and young women is today. It is an honor to dedicate this year’s AHF Rose Parade float to celebrating and empowering such young girls and women,” said Michael Weinstein, AHF president.

At the forefront of the growing girl empowerment movement is Women of Action, AHF’s newest advocacy effort which — as part of a UN effort in October — hosted girl-centric activities in China, Russia, India, Mexico, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and the United States to foster talk of girls’ hopes, fears, and dreams; to help them build relationships in their community—and for them to simply have fun.

Same sex couple Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair, who were married on the AIDS Healthcare Foundation float in 2014, hosted the five girls at Studio DNA, their hair salon to help them get ready.

“It is both a privilege and a treat for us to pamper this five young ladies before their own big day in this year’s Rose Parade,” Leclair said.

The foundation’s float features an 11-foot spinning golden globe, surrounded by four 8-foot tall floral girls from around the world dressed as potential professions girls may pursue today: a construction worker, a teacher, a doctor or medical worker and a businesswoman. Working together, these four floral girls are holding the world at their finger tips as they jointly hoist the spinning globe.

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