My wife, Amy Peele, is the director of clinical operations for the transplant programs at UCSF Medical Center. Earlier in December, Amy had the good fortune to meet an 18 year old college student named Alfonso at a press conference. Alfonso was the fortunate recipient of a new liver, and he was chosen to be one of the float riders on the Donate Life float at the Rose Parade. Along with Alfonso, Amy met his family, and the family of a 22 year old named George, who had sadly passed away, and who amazingly donated his liver which saved Alfonso's life. Given that I was already planning to go to Pasadena, Amy decided that she wanted to take part in all of the events surrounding the Donate Life float, and I got to come along for some of that ride too.
Another of our close friends, Charles Bearden, was already planning to participate, and was generous enough to invite us to join him. It proved to be an experience I'll never forget. Charles himself had an interesting connection to the float. Around 26 years ago, he was the coordinator for the third ever infant heart transplant. He brought the donor baby cross country to Loma Linda Hospital, where the heart was transplanted into "Baby Eve", now known to us all as Leila. This was the first time that Charles and Leila had ever met face to face, and it was amazing. She is now the mother of an 18 month old, and pregnant with twins, and she rode on the float too.
We all became part of Team George. Alfonso rode on the float, holding a photo of George, and standing beneath a floral portrait of him as well. We cheered and wept along with George's mother, father, and sister, and all of the members of Alfonso's family, including his father, who coincidentally also works at UCSF.
We had the great pleasure of hugging Claudia, a young woman who got a kidney/pancreas transplant, and now works as a dialysis nurse. She just completed her first marathon race, and is one of the sweetest, most endearing people I've been lucky enough to meet.
We met Syracuse Sue, another kidney/pancreas recipient, who was decked out in orange from head to toe. We took Chase, an 11 year old boy from Nebraska to lunch one day, and he told us his story of getting a bone donation 2 years ago which enabled him to save his arm after a cancerous tumor was discovered.
We met two moms from Wisconsin, who didn't have sponsors to help pay for their participation, but who felt they had to be there. Each had lost a child who became an organ donor, and now both work to educate young people in high schools about the need for organ donation. The float celebrities were ex-Angels and Cardinals shortstop (whom we Giants fans remember all too well from 2002), David Eckstein, and his brother Rick, who is the hitting coach for the Nationals. Kidney disease runs in their family, so Rick has already donated to one sibling, and David is now set to donate to another.
It was such a moving experience, capped off by sitting in a designated grandstand with all of the participant families and other volunteers to watch the float go by, screaming and waving at all the riders. Meeting all these people who either helped save lives by donating organs, or had their lives saved through transplant really helped me put my personal issues into perspective. I have so much respect for all of these people, and the professionals like Amy, Charles, Lisa, Ken, Tom, Kathy and so many more, who help make this all happen.