Donate Life is a Matter of Sharing Love

Carolyn Henry  Glaspy holds up a artistic likeness of  her son, former NFL player Chris Henry at the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. Henry, who died after falling from a truck, had his organs donated. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Carolyn Henry Glaspy holds up a artistic likeness of her son, former NFL player Chris Henry at the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

PASADENA- Every year the Tournament of Roses bring out the “wow” factor with  all of the illustrious and beautifully-crafted floats that mark the start of the New Year. And every year those floats that are showcased to millions of people worldwide, don’t disappoint in the buzz department. Some of those floats, however, have a much deeper meaning than hand-waving participants and all of the glamorous pageantry that make the Tournament of Roses must-see television.

Some of those displayed floats serve as inspiration. Some carry social weight. Others, like the Donate Life float, promote humanitarian causes.  The Tournament of Roses is somewhat liken to the Big Dance leading up to the Senior Prom, which, in this case, is the annual Rose Bowl football game.

Before the Stanford Cardinals lined up and beat back the Wisconsin Badgers for a 20-14 victory in the 99th Rose Bowl presented by Vizio, the Tournament of Roses served as the main course for fans before they absorbed college football’s signature game outside of the national championship. And always, it was an entertaining and good show.

But for Carolyn Henry Glaspy being part of the Tournament of Roses wasn’t about being part of a good show. She didn’t ride on the Donate Life float to entertain people. For Henry Glaspy, being one of 32 participants designated to ride on the New Year’s Day float, it was about being part of a greater message to promote life. And that message is that organ donations can save lives.

Twelve-year-old Ernesto Bravo Chavez, an organ donor recipient, holds up a photo of U.S. veteran Gabriel Barajas, who lost his life in an automobile accident. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Twelve-year-old Ernesto Bravo Chavez, an organ donor recipient, holds up a photo of U.S. veteran Gabriel Barajas, who lost his life in an automobile accident. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

Chris Henry, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals, lost his life in 2009 after absorbing a fatal head injury when he fell from a pickup truck that was driven by his girlfriend. He was 26. Because of his giving nature, Henry’s mom donated his organs to bless other people. Four people benefitted from the donation of Henry’s organs.

As she sat on this year’s Donate Life float, themed, “Journeys of the Heart,” Henry Glaspy said it wasn’t a difficult decision to make, even though her son’s life was abruptly an unexpectedly taken away at a young age.

“It is not as hard as you think it is,” Henry Glaspy said. “When your loved one is laying there and their organs are still functioning and you know this is there last…you want to make a decision. Some have to make a decision for their sons like I had to do it for my son. I knew he was a giver, so I wanted to share him. When I felt his heart still beating, I said yes to the cause. If I had to do it again, I will. It is a journey that I am glad that I am on and hope that someone else can join me. It is unbelievable.”

Unbelievable would best describe the journeys of all of the float riders in this year’s parade. Sue Pasewald remembers daughter Christina as being a funny, sweet and happy person. That joy was abruptly and tragically taken away from Sue and her husband Dave when Christina lost her life in 2007 at the young age of 23.

Pasewald was reluctant at first to the thought of donating her daughter’s organs, but eventually agreed to the process of sharing life, allowing Christina’s organ tissues to be donated.

“She just lit up the whole world,” said Sue Pasewald. “She was tragically taken from us when she was 23-years-old, and we don’t regret one day having her as a donor. She’s helped so many people, giving life to people and assisting other people to live normal lives because of her donation. This is the greatest gift of love that anyone can ever give. I’m overwhelmed with the excitement with getting people inspired to sign up, and hoping they’re just not going to say they’re going to do it, and go do it. You never know when you’re going to need help.”

Sue  Pasewald donated daughter Christina's organ tissues to help save other people lives. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman
Sue Pasewald donated daughter Christina’s organ tissues to help save the lives of other people. Photo Credit: Dennis J. Freeman

The recognition of placing the importance on organ donation has grown significantly in years. An organ tissue donor (skin, corneas, heart valves) has the potential to save as many as 50 lives, according to a Donate Life California fact sheet. One organ donor can save as many as eight lives through the donation of the heart, liver, lungs and kidneys. As many as 79 organ transplants take place every day. On the flip side of that statistic, 18 people die per day while waiting for the right organ donation to come along.

For former Major League Baseball star David Eckstein, who won a World Series ring with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and played his way to MVP honors in the 2006 Fall Classic when he led the St. Louis Cardinals to the title over Detroit, sharing life is a family matter. If not for the donations of kidney organs by his mother and brother to other family members, that circle would be a lot smaller. Now he’s on deck to donate one of his kidneys to a sister.

“Throughout my life and career as a professional baseball player, knowing the daily struggles of my family has always been a driving force for me to never take a day for granted,” Eckstein said in a statement. “I felt it was my obligation to always do my best, and when the time comes, I would be proud to add kidney donor to my list of achievements.”

Ernesto Bravo Chavez is a not a professional athlete. He is not a celebrity. He is just a twelve-year-old kid with a great smile and equally impressive candor. He is grateful that he has a chance to live his life. If not for the kidney transplant he received in 2005, chances are that Ernesto would not be here today. But because of the organ donation made by U.S. veteran Gabriel Barajas, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ernesto found himself celebrating life in the Tournament of Roses.

“He is like a hero to me,” Ernesto said of the fallen Barajas, who died in a car accident. “It means a lot. It means I can live.”


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