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My Journey to the Rose Parade: An Experience of a Lifetime

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Written by Lisa Barker, Liver Transplant Recipient      

When I woke up on Friday, February 7, 2014 I never imagined the plans God had in store for my future after my life saving liver transplant. I found myself resonating with this quote since my transplant. “If you saw the size of the blessing coming, you would understand the magnitude of the battle you are fighting.”

        When my battle first started, I do not think I can honestly say I understood the way God was working in my life. I knew he had a plan but it was a lot to comprehend. I had unexpected months of rehab and was emotionally struggling with all that comes with being a new transplant recipient.

        Through my rehab, God revealed several things to me; specifically that my life still had purpose. He chose to work a miracle in my life and keep me alive. He showed a watching world that He was enough and always will be enough. He revealed this to me towards the end of my hospital stay and from that day forward, I knew my purpose in life was to honor God, give Him all the glory, and to share my story with the world; a story full of miracles and the hope that springs from tragedy.

        I have had the honor of being a volunteer for the Southwest Transplant Alliance since mid 2014. Volunteering has become a huge passion of mine. There is something very powerful about sharing your story and telling someone you would not be alive and standing in front of them if it was not for a selfless organ donor. That selfless angel for me was Courtney Ray Sterling.

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        I have been very blessed to develop such a unique relationship with my donor family, Michael and Dawn Sterling are my Godparents and we treasure the relationship that we have built with them.

        We all have been involved in raising awareness for organ, eye, and tissue donation and in September 2015 we got asked a question that would change our lives forever. That question for me from the Southwest Transplant Alliance was, “Would you represent us as a float rider on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float in Pasadena, California?”

        Tears filled my eyes and I said, “YES!” To me there is no greater honor than to represent The Southwest Transplant Alliance. They played a major role in saving my life and I am forever grateful for the hard work they put in everyday to advocate for all recipients.

        The Southwest Transplant Alliance also asked the Sterling’s if they could honor Courtney as a floragraph on the float and they of course said yes as well.

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        How exciting to get to spend a week with my Godparents in Pasadena, California. Up to this point, I had only been able to spend long weekends with them so getting an entire week together was very special.

        I was speechless for days after I accepted this incredible honor. The Donate Life Rose Parade Float is America’s biggest Donate Life Celebration. I quickly realized I had the privilege of representing all organ recipients and showing what a precious gift organ donation is. We quickly started preparing for the trip of a lifetime.

        On December 28, 2015 Reid, my husband, and I travelled with Michael & Dawn, Kim who lead our trip from the Southwest Transplant Alliance and three other donor families from Texas who we grew to love during the trip.

        The Donate Life Rose Parade Float consisted of 24 riders, who were organ and tissue recipients or in a few cases; family members representing loved ones who were organ donors and 12 walkers who were ordinary men and women who made the remarkable and selfless decision to donate a kidney to a family member, friend, or even a complete stranger and 60 floragraphs, or portraits made from organic materials depicting deceased donors whose legacies are celebrated by their loved ones.

        There is something so comforting about spending a week with other donor and recipient families who understand all of the struggles you faced and the emotional ride that organ donation entails.

        Throughout our week in Pasadena, California we were able to share our story with other attendees. We loved hearing other stories of heroes and getting to know other families loved ones who had given the ultimate gift of life.

 

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        We had the opportunity to place dedicated roses to Courtney on the float. My family all wrote special messages to Courtney, our hero. Getting to place those roses was very special and my family was honored to be a part of the float with their dedicated messages. The float was filled with thousands of roses and other messages of hope and inspiration from recipients and loved ones.  

        We had a rider/walker dinner and it was very powerful to see so much life in one room. Families who have been restored and did not have to grieve losing their loved one because another family said yes to donation during their darkest hour. As I looked across the room, I saw world changers. People that are so grateful for their second chance at life and who will live each day honoring their donors and their families and sharing hope that comes from donation.

        The time quickly approached for the Float to make its appearance down Colorado Boulevard for the Rose Parade on New Years Day.

        I do not think I could ever fully prepare for how magical this ride would be. With close to a million people in attendance and millions more watching on television it was amazing to see how much respect our float received. As my ride began we quickly turned a corner known as the “media corner.” All of the TV crews are set up filming and capturing images of each float as they go by.

Some favorite moments for me was watching people react when our float passed by and they realized what it represented. People would stand up and clap to honor the deceased donors, living donors, and recipients. To see parents turn to their children and explain what our float represented and to know that these young children are learning about donation at such a young age was so powerful to me.

It was inspiring to see people holding up signs in the crowd that displayed their transplant dates. When we passed by our Donate Life cheering section, tears were flowing. I spotted Reid and my donor parents right away. I blew Reid a kiss and then made eye contact with Dawn. I loved seeing the joy in her and Michael’s eyes as their sweet Courtney passed them by on the float. Courtney not only saved five lives by donating her organs, but millions were watching her that morning and she was sharing the message that donation truly changes lives and inspiring others to register their donation decision to be that hero for someone else. The amount of lives she has impacted is endless.

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        Getting to hold Courtney’s picture in my hand and stand next to her floragraph was so touching. People would see her picture in my hands and look down at her floragraph and tears would fill their eyes. They would make the connection that I was standing on that float because of Courtney’s beautiful gift.

        A ride of a lifetime. A ride I will truly treasure forever. I am thankful for OneLegacy and all of their hard work they put in to preparing this experience, The Southwest Transplant Alliance for giving me the opportunity to represent them and providing this experience for Reid and I, and Donate Life for allowing me to be a part of the world’s largest organ donation celebration. Relationships were made on this trip that will last a lifetime.

        I pray you each consider organ donation. I encourage you to have that conversation with your families about what Outliving Yourself truly looks like. I am forever grateful to the Sterling’s and every donor family who made the selfless decision to say yes to organ, eye, and tissue donation so that others may live.           

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