Each year, LifeCenter Northwest selects a donor from our service area to be honored on the Donate Life Float at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. We are joined by organizations from across the nation in sponsoring donor families, living donors, and transplant recipients to attend the parade, connect with others touched by donation, and participate in activities coordinated by Los Angeles based organ procurement organization, OneLegacy. Deceased donors are recognized through the creation of “floragraphs,” which are floral portraits made of organic materials that are incorporated into the float design.
This year, LifeCenter has selected organ and tissue donor, Julie Shepherd, to be honored on the Donate Life Rose Parade ® Float. Julie was a fiercely competitive and exceptional athlete, but she also had a big heart that extended empathy and kindness to friends and strangers alike. In her short 17 years, she touched many lives with her generosity. Many of her teachers have remembered how her energy, humor, and outgoing personality lit up the rooms and hallways of the school like nothing they had seen before.
“We are still finding out about all the lives she touched through her kindness,” says her father, Derrek. “We’ve heard stories from a wide span of people including the family of a non-verbal autistic child who would go to Julie’s work just to see her smile. Julie had also recently cut her hair to make a donation to an organization that provides recipients with wigs for free. She was an amazing person.”
While she brought enormous joy and light into the lives of others, she battled a constant darkness within herself. The people who knew Julie were shocked to hear that she struggled with severe depression. Although she talked to a therapist and a psychiatrist, and took her medication every day, her mind controlled her reality until she was unable to endure the suffering any longer. Since her death, her family has talked openly about her depression hoping to help others struggling with the disease.
Just as she did in life, Julie helped numerous people in her passing by becoming an organ, eye, and tissue donor.
“The donation process has helped to ease the pain of her death by giving us the knowledge that other people’s lives were helped,” Derrek says.
Julie saved the lives of six people through the donation of her pancreas, liver, lungs, both kidneys and her heart, which was described by the transplant surgeon as the “mythical perfect heart.” Anyone who knew her would agree with that sentiment.
The theme for this year’s Donate Life Float is Light in the Darkness. Organ, eye, and tissue donation is often the first spark of light families see when in their darkest of moments, the opportunity to honor their loved ones’ legacy provides hope and light to both grieving donor families and grateful recipients. There will be 26 organ, eye and tissue recipients or living donors seated among the peacocks and/or walking alongside the float.
Floral displays overflow from intricate vessels, adorned with 44 floragraphs, including Julie’s, honoring the gift of life and light given by organ, eye, and tissue donors. As the world’s most visible campaign to inspire organ, eye, and tissue donation, the Donate Life Rose Parade® float inspires viewers to save and heal more than one million people in need of an organ, eye, and tissue transplant each year.