ALACHUA, Fla.--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--RTI Donor Services, a not-for-profit tissue recovery agency dedicated to serving donor families and working in collaboration with the donation community and healthcare facilities in perpetuating the gift of tissue donation, is pleased to announce that the organization is continuing its sponsorship of the Donate Life Float in the 2017 Rose Parade.
“Tom's wish was to give of himself, even after this life”
RTI Donor Services has the honor of sponsoring both a donor family and tissue recipient to participate in the 2017 Donate Life Rose Parade Float. Our sponsored tissue donor, 59-year-old Tom Russell of Pittsburg, Texas, will be memorialized through a special portrait called a floragraph, which will adorn the float. Tom’s floragraph is decorated with grains, flowers, seeds, spices and other organic materials. Tom’s family had the opportunity to place the finishing touches on his floragraph in November at a special ceremony in Winnsboro, Texas. RTI Donor Services’ sponsored tissue recipient and float rider is Karen Wilkinson, 44, of Naples, Fla. Wilkinson is a wife and mother whose life was restored after receiving a tissue transplant following an injury during a family ski trip.
RTI Donor Services is sponsoring both families’ trips to Pasadena to participate in the Rose Parade festivities, culminating in watching Karen riding the float featuring Tom’s floragraph travel down Colorado Avenue.
About the Donate Life Float
RTI Donor Services has been a sponsor of the Donate Life Float since its inception in the Rose Parade in 2004. This year’s Donate Life Float, “Teammates in Life," proudly represents the 2017 Rose Parade theme, "Echoes of Success," by reminding us that no one succeeds alone. We all thrive by working together and pulling in the same direction. Donors save the lives of grateful recipients and help families heal, and it is the large community of registered donors that makes it possible to save thousands of lives across the country each year.
The 2017 float depicts a spectacular Polynesian catamaran, which will be propelled by a team of 24 organ, eye, and tissue transplant recipients rowing in unison with strength gained from their donors.
The sails of the vessel will feature 60 floral portraits of donors. Just as the donors’ gifts empower the lives of others, the sails help power the catamaran on its journey. Twelve living donors will walk alongside the float carrying flowers in celebration of the life they have given to others and the quality of life they continue to enjoy themselves. The ocean waves will showcase 1,000 white Akito roses, individually dedicated in memory of specific donors.
The 128th Rose Parade will take place on Jan. 2 at 8 a.m. (PST). For more information on the Donate Life float, visit the official website at www.donatelifefloat.org.
Tom Russell’s Story
Tom Russell, of Pittsburg, Texas, passed away in January 2013 at 59 years old from pulmonary embolisms. A devoted husband and father, he died just two weeks short of celebrating 26 years of marriage with his wife Kathi. "On January 2, 2013, I found myself tearfully chasing a helicopter, praying that my most beloved husband would still be alive when I arrived an hour later at the hospital," said Kathi. Three days later, Tom unexpectedly passed away. Kathi describes losing Tom, only hours after their children and friends had arrived back at their distant homes, as one of the worst times of her life.
Tom’s wife and children knew that Tom wanted to be an organ and tissue donor upon his death. He had signed up as a donor and would expect nothing less. It wasn't even an option to disregard his wishes, Kathi said. "It was 2 a.m. when I was informed that the donation organization would call around 3 a.m.," Kathi explained. "Even through the numbness, I gained purpose to take care of business." Everyone that knew Tom agreed that was exactly what he would have done.
"The RTI Donor Services' representative was genuinely sympathetic and kind by clearly, but gently, explaining the donor process," Kathi continued. She and their family are grateful to RTI Donor Services for providing comfort and sympathy at such a difficult time.
Tom's loved ones were informed that he has restored the lives of many through tissue donation and has given sight to two recipients. "It definitely helps us feel a living connection with him," Kathi said.
Tom worked as a Business Services Manager for GTE/Verizon for 26 years. After choosing to retire, he became a substitute teacher and was awarded "Substitute Teacher of the Year" by one of his favorite schools. Tom was known as a strong, intelligent, fun loving, caring and giving family man who was loved by many. All who knew him would agree he had a "get it done, no time wasted" attitude and was a faithful and loving servant to all. Their children and grandchildren especially agree with Kathi. “If Tom saw a need, he just jumped on it and tried to meet it.”
"Tom's wish was to give of himself, even after this life," Kathi concluded. "And, so he did!"
Karen Wilkinson’s Story
Just like every Christmas vacation, the Wilkinsons traveled with a group of friends for their annual ski trip. However, their 2014 Christmas trip made a lasting impact in the life of Karen Wilkinson. What started off as a fun family vacation turned into a painful stay at a Montana hotel as Wilkinson focused on elevating her knee and trying not to move it in an effort to reduce the pain in her left leg.
While on the slopes, Wilkinson tried avoiding a high speed collision. In her effort to try to avoid the collision, she tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL).
Her orthopedic surgeon encouraged her to consider an allograft procedure, through which she would receive a tissue donation to repair her ACL. She and her husband were longtime supporters of organ and tissue donation, so she knew it was the right thing to do.
“I have always been in support of tissue donation,” she said. Wilkinson worked in hospital and trauma settings for 15 years as a respiratory therapist for a level one trauma center where she placed patients on and off life support and assisted in the process of organ donation.
“I have always enjoyed fitness and healthy nutrition,” Wilkinson said. “My hobbies are gardening, scuba diving, weight lifting and cardio, and cooking classes.” She is currently a network marketer for super food nutrition and cleanses.
Wilkinson teaches Bible studies in her community and can be found hanging out as a youth group leader for teenage girls. “I am a mom to two teenage boys, and I have been happily married for 20 years,” she said.
“My husband donated bone marrow twice and all four of my family members are donors as noted on our licenses,” she said. “Obviously, receiving a donated ACL personally gives even more meaning to my support of tissue donation.”
After her accident, she was unable to bear any weight on her left leg. Now, she can exercise with little limitations. “I can continue to be active as I was before the accident,” she said.
Today, more than 119,500 children and adults await life-saving organ transplants in the United States. Hundreds of thousands more are in need of a tissue transplant to save or greatly enhance the quality of their lives. Visit www.registerme.org to find out how to designate your donation wishes in your state.
RTI Donor Services is a not-for-profit tissue recovery agency dedicated to serving donor families and working in collaboration with the donation community and healthcare facilities in perpetuating the gift of tissue donation and can be found online at www.rtidonorservices.org or Facebook.com/RTIDonorServices.
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