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KC area organ donors remembered at Rose Parade

Updated: 2013-12-31T15:53:24Z


Special to The Star

Facing the holiday season this year was heartbreaking for Sara Davis.

Two summers ago, the Shawnee mom’s world crumbled when her 6-year-old son, Noah, drowned.

Fond memories of him linger in her mind. Noah was energetic. He was happy. He wanted to be a police officer so he could protect everyone he loved.

A physical part of him still lingers in the world as well.

Upon his death in June 2012, both of Noah’s kidneys were donated to two different adults.

“In our family, it was never a question of whether to be an organ donor, it was just a no-brainer for us,” Davis said. “It gives hope that something good can come out of such a nightmare. Part of my son literally continues to live in someone else and that’s a big deal.”

And on New Year’s Day, Noah’s legacy will be known on an even bigger scale.

Noah is one of three Kansas City area donors to be honored with floragraphs, which will decorate the Donate Life America float at the 2014 Rose Parade Jan. 1. The parade will be televised at 10 a.m. on ABC, NBC, the Hallmark Channel, Univision and HGTV.

The floragraphs are portraits of each donor made from organic materials, such as seeds, grain, ground-up flowers and coffee grounds.

Since 2004, the Donate Life Rose Parade float has served as a memorial to organ and tissue donors.

In addition to the more than 80 floragraphs representing donors from around the nation, it will be adorned with thousands of roses dedicated to organ donors, and feature living organ donors and donor recipients walking or standing alongside it.

“The float really shows each aspect of donation, because everyone is represented,” said Brooke Connell, a spokesperson for the Midwest Transplant Network, which sponsors a couple of the Kansas City area floragraph families. “When you see the face of a donor and then a recipient, it brings it all full circle.”

It’s also a way to bring peace to the families.

“It’s comforting to know that my son’s face will be on national television, because it helps keep him alive to me,” Davis said. “It’s like he’s still here in a way.”

The floragraphs are made by volunteers in Pasadena, Ca., and sent back to each family so they can finish the eyebrows.

The families are flown out to Pasadena, courtesy of the transplant network or another sponsor, to watch the parade and meet other donor families.

After the parade, the floragraphs are framed and sent back to the families for keeps.

Leslie McLendon, of Kansas City, and Rex Tickles, of Linwood, Kan., were the two other area floragraph honorees.

Recently, Ursula McLendon and her family spent an evening at their church completing her sister Leslie’s floragraph.

“It was incredible and it looked so much like her,” said McLendon. “We’re so proud and honored that this provides a way for her legacy to live on.”

Friends and church members also showed up to watch the event and pay their respects to the beloved community leader.

Leslie, who had been a counselor at Boys Town and a community organizer and outreach specialist for the Community Blood Center, inspired people even after her sudden passing one year ago from cardiac arrest.

McLendon recalled that when word got out Leslie had been an organ donor, the family received calls from curious friends wanting to know how they could donate.

In Linwood, Tickle was inspired to donate his bone and tissue after a spontaneous conversation with his family a few years ago.

“We talked about whether we would donate and my dad said something like, ‘I don’t think they can use anything I got, but I’m willing to share,’ ” recalled Tina Dinkel, his daughter.

His decision wasn’t surprising.

Dinkel, of Shawnee, points out her dad was the type of guy who was always willing to help out anyone in a jam, whether it was to help someone move at the very last minute or helping to clean out a basement.

She is looking forward to seeing the float in person next week because she finds it incredibly inspiring.

“The greatest gift this float gives is creating awareness about organ donation and helping people understand what it’s really about,” said Dinkel. “There are so many people — thousands — who are waiting for a donation that will save their life.”

She hopes everything on the float, from the floragraphs to the roses, will serve as a catalyst for that one important discussion.

“Losing a loved one is a tragedy, no matter how it happens,” Dinkel said. “But it makes it easier if you know what their wishes are.”

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