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VOL. 127 | NO. 243 | Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rose Parade Float Honors Life-Giving Donors

By ERINN FIGG

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Seventeen-year-old Lexie Davis was an outgoing, caring teenager who tried to see the good in everyone she met.

Clarice Bolden puts some finishing touches on a floral portrait of her great-granddaughter Lexie Davis while Davis’ mother Yolanda Walton and sister Krista Walton watch.

(Photo Courtesy of Ruth Lovell)

Her free-spirited nature shone through in her love for singing and belly dancing. And although she wasn’t too experienced at making meals from scratch, Davis could add a few extra ingredients to a frozen burrito and transform it into something of a culinary masterpiece.

A student at East High School and a choir member at Greater Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Davis believed life should be lived to the fullest, and she shared this outlook with her family and friends. When she died from complications of an epileptic seizure on Aug. 2, 2011, her mother Yolanda Walton had no problem making the decision to donate Davis’ organs to others who needed them.

“I knew that she was so full of life that she could still help other people,” Walton said. “I knew that’s what she would have wanted.”

Today, five people are alive because of Davis’ organ donations, and countless more are benefiting from her tissue donation. Donate Life America will honor this life-saving gift by featuring Davis in one of 72 floral donor portraits on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.

“It is my honor to present Lexie to the world. Like every one of our donors, she is so special because she opted to give the greatest gift in the world – the gift of life,” said Randa Lipman, community outreach manager for Mid-South Transplant Foundation Inc., the federally designated organ procurement organization that serves West Tennessee, East Arkansas and North Mississippi as part of the national Donate Life America alliance. “This float is the world’s largest symbol of the importance of organ donation. It’s seen by so many millions of viewers worldwide.”

On Dec. 6, the foundation hosted an event with East High School to bring family and friends together to put the finishing touches on Davis’ floragraph – a portrait made of flowers, seeds, coffee grounds and other natural materials that will be added to the Donate Life America float, themed “Journeys of the Heart.” The school’s praise dancers gave a special performance, and the packed gym full of student attendees wore green, Davis’ favorite color.

Davis’ 15-year-old sister Krista, her grandmother Delois Bolden, great-grandmother Clarice Bolden, and Methodist University Hospital nurse Holly Lunsford joined Walton as honorary guests, and a particularly special moment took place when principal Eric Harris named Davis as an honorary East High School graduate.

“I felt like I was at the Academy Awards and she had just won Best Actress,” Walton said. “It was a real emotional journey for me. To know that I get to walk on her behalf and get her diploma with her class is amazing.”

Students also had the opportunity to sign up to be organ donors at the event. Teaching high school students about the benefits of organ and tissue donation is one of the foundation’s major initiatives, Lipman said.

“It’s amazing how many high school students raise their hands when I ask how many of them know someone who has been touched by an organ donation,” she said. “Through our high school programs, we offer to come in and teach for an hour or a full day so they can be well-informed when they get their driver’s licenses.”

In Tennessee, an estimated 2,400 people wait for a life-saving organ transplant, according to Donate Life America, and 122 Tennesseans died waiting for a transplant in 2011. Currently, Tennessee’s donor statistics are lower than the national average: 42 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Tennesseans are registered donors, with an average of 280 Tennesseans becoming organ donors annually.

Lipman said several misconceptions contribute to a reluctance to donate, the biggest being a fear that hospital emergency room physicians won’t work as hard to save an organ donor.

“Obviously that’s not true,” she said. “They’ve taken an oath to do everything possible to save lives.”

She also frequently hears concerns that organ donation might violate religious beliefs. But in fact, organ donation is supported by most religions, she said, and the foundation has educational information available for almost every faith.

Another major contributor to low donor numbers is a lack of registration awareness, Lipman said. People are asked to state their donor preferences each time they renew their driver’s licenses or permits, and sometimes the rush to get through lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles can cause them to overlook the option.

However, an online registry at donatelifetn.org now makes it possible for anyone to sign up, confirm or change a donor status. Anyone seeking more information on becoming an organ donor also can visit midsouthtransplant.org.

Walters encourages other parents to talk to their children about the decision. She recently met the 60-year-old woman from Wisconsin who received Davis’ heart.

“I put my head on her chest and I heard my child’s heart beating in there, and it made my own heart feel good,” she said. “I’m so proud of Lexie. She’s my hero – she saved five lives.”

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