Rose Parade float honors organ, eye, and tissue donors, carries message from the heart

Rose Parade float honors organ, eye, and tissue donors, carries message from the heart
By: Contributor Last Updated: December 3, 2019

For the ninth consecutive year, families gathered with Community Healthcare System staff members, Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network representatives and VisionFirst officials to honor the area’s organ, eye and tissue donors.

The annual Donate Life Rose Dedication Ceremony was held Nov. 6 at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts to formally send-off roses that will make up the Donate Life float in the 2020 Rose Parade. Each of the 50 roses sponsored by Community Hospital in Munster, St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart now carry tags with messages on their vials of love from the donor families.

“Working in healthcare at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System, everyone understands what the families are going through after losing a loved one,” said Jana Lacera, rose ceremony coordinator and director of Bioethics. “These dedicated roses and the tributes they carry add special meaning not only for the families of our organ and tissue donors but serve to inspire others to become organ, eye, and tissue donors as well. Supporting the Donate Life float is just one of the ways the hospitals of Community Healthcare System honor and remember donors and their generous contributions.”

Year-round, the hospitals of Community Healthcare System partner with Gift of Hope and VisionFirst eye bank to raise awareness regarding eye, organ and tissue donations. The Donate Life rose ceremony is another opportunity for the hospitals of Community Healthcare System: Community Hospital, Munster, St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago and St. Mary Medical Center, Hobart, to connect with donor families again and thank them for their kindness and courage. Transplant recipients also in attendance relate to the donor families the impact the donor’s gift has had on their lives.

Caitlin Stephen, a cornea recipient said receiving a transplant has changed her life in more ways than she could have imagined.

In high school, Stephen was diagnosed with keratoconus, a progressive eye disease where the normally round cornea thins and begins to bulge into a cone-like shape. This cone shape deflects light and causes vision distortion.

As the keratoconus progressed, she began having difficulty with everyday tasks. She was going home every day after work with terrible headaches and driving was becoming nearly impossible.

In 2011, Stephen received the gift of sight. She has come full circle, giving back through her job as supervisor of Hospital Development for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.

“Thanks to the generosity of my cornea donor, I was able to see clearly as I walked down the aisle at my wedding a few years ago,” she said. “I also was able to see my beautiful daughter’s face clearly when she was born last year. Those moments would not have been possible without the generous young man and his family that said yes to donation. He literally gave me a new outlook on my future.”

As a middle school science teacher at Grimmer Middle School in Schererville, Dan Runyon strived to make a difference in young people’s lives. He was an active father to daughter Avery and son Cole. He served as assistant coach for the middle school’s track and football teams. While running with the middle school running club, he suddenly collapsed as his heart went into cardiac arrest. He died two days later. He was just 45 years old.

Dan’s wife Heather said she never wavered when asked if the family would consider tissue donation as well as organ donation.

“I knew organ donation was his wish even before we were married,” she explained. “I knew he didn’t want to be buried with vital and precious gifts that could be shared with others if and when his time of earth was up. As you can imagine, it was extremely overwhelming when Gift of Hope shared that through donation, Dan was able to help 222 people from 16 different states. One hundred fifty-six people received bone grafts, 60 people received skin grafts, six people received tendon/ligament transplants. He can continue to help people with his tissue donation as some of his gifts can be used up to five years from the date of recovery.”

“When living, Dan would do whatever he could to help others…to help me, our children, his friends and family and his students-and in his final act here on earth; he offered himself through the selfless act of donation in order that others could thrive. It is amazing that even in death, my husband is able to make such an impact and help other people,” Runyon said.

The theme for the 131th Rose Parade is “The Power of Hope.” Hope represents dignity and respect, joy and happiness, aspiration and achievement. With this in mind, the 2020 Donate Life float called “Light in the Darkness,” highlights the power of unity, light, and love, as celebrated during Southeast Asia’s Diwali or the Festival of Lights, a celebration of the light shining through the darkness. The float will carry donor families, living donors, and transplant recipients as part of the Rose Bowl events Wednesday, January 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

The front of the float features colorful rangoli, intricate circular designs made of rice and flowers, created to adorn the entrance of a home. These rangoli will house thousands of individually dedicated roses to honor those who have saved and healed lives through the power of organ, eye and tissue donation. Two brass oil lamps known as “diya” feature traditional peacock designs and are accompanied by three majestic peacocks, symbols of new life. Twenty-six organ, eye and tissue recipients or living donors will be seated among the peacocks or walk alongside the float. Floral displays overflow from intricate vessels, adorned with 44 memorial floral portraits, honoring the gift of life and light given by organ, eye and tissue donors.   

One person can save up to eight lives through the donation of lifesaving organs – heart, kidney, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine – and help more than 50 people or more who need corneas to see, skin to heal from burns and bones and connective tissue for common knee, back and dental surgeries. Some 6,000 lives per year also are saved by living kidney and liver donors.

Organ and tissue donations save and heal hundreds of thousands of adults and children each year in the U.S. alone. Indiana residents can register their intent to be organ and tissue donors while obtaining or renewing their drivers’ license. Registration also is accepted at