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Mother, Grandmother to be Honored for Tissue Donation on Rose Bowl Parade Float

Mother, Grandmother to be Honored for Tissue Donation on Rose Bowl Parade Float

Lisa “Michelle” Middleton of Gainesville, Fla., originally from Charleston, SC, passed away very suddenly at the young age of 44.  Lisa had just said good bye to her co-workers at RTI Surgical (RTI), an Alachua, Fla.-based organization that prepares donated tissues for transplantation – and was driving down the road when she suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Lisa’s daughter, Tara, who also works at RTI, was notified and quickly drove to the scene.  She found her mother being worked on by EMS but sadly, Lisa died. 

Giving the Gift of Life

Lisa’s story does not end there.  Lisa had always been vocal about her commitment and passion for donation. Her daughter  was heartbroken but when asked if her mom would want to be a tissue donor, mere seconds passed before her very vehement, “yes!” was said.  She knew how much her mother cared about the work RTI did to help families and recipients and had told her family that if she died, she wanted to be a donor.

Lisa’s death was very difficult for everyone at RTI, as she had been there for a number of years and was considered part of the “family.”  She worked a difficult shift, the overnight shift, with a growing team that was responsible for ensuring the safety and quality of the gift of donation on off-hours.  Lisa left work each day around 6:30 a.m., and even after a difficult shift, would greet her leadership team and teammates with a huge smile and a positive attitude that was infectious to those around her, her supervisor Adam said. He describes Lisa as kind, soft spoken, and an individual who put forth a courageous effort each and every day.

“I will never forget that night; it brought me closer to my team than ever before,” said Adam. “We never knew that Lisa would better connect all of us to the gift of tissue donation, so today, and always, we remember her for the kind person she was, and the amazing gift that she gave.”

Lisa’s daughter, Tara, describes her mother as “a quiet and humble woman, a hard worker, dedicated to her family, her job and friends.” Lisa enjoyed church and reading her Bible. “She was a woman of few words, yet you always remembered what was said. Her words always left an impression on you. She was helpful and the best listener I have ever come across,” Tara said.

Lisa was a registered donor, and Tara was pleased to help in carrying out her wishes for her. “She was a dedicated mother and grandmother who found true joy in motherhood and lived her life for others,” Tara said. “So as you can imagine, being an organ and tissue donor was not a difficult decision for her. As she lived, she passed away and lives on through those she has touched.”

Lisa was a beautiful soul and her donation of heart valves, pericardium, bone, tendons and skin will be her legacy and a remarkable expression of her commitment to donation.

Lisa’s gift of tissue donation is  being commemorated through a special portrait of Lisa that will adorn the 2015 Donate Life Float in the Rose Parade on January 1, 2015 in Pasadena, California. Lisa’s floragraph, a special memorial portrait, will be decorated with grains, flowers, seeds, spices and other organic materials, and is one of 72 that will grace the Donate Life float.

CryoLife, the agency that facilitated the preparation of Lisa’s donated heart valves, is sponsoring Lisa’s floragraph on the float, as well as the trip to Pasadena, Calif. for Lisa’s family to participate in the Donate Life Float festivities and sit in the grandstands as the float travels by. RTI Donor Services, the non-profit arm of RTI Surgical, which facilitated Lisa’s donation, and CryoLife, are sponsors of the Donate Life Float and two of more than 100 associations across the nation supporting the float project.

Today, more than 123,000 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 to find out how to designate your donation wishes in your state.

More information on the Donate Life float is available on the float’s official website at

RTI Surgical is a leading global surgical implant company providing surgeons with safe biologic, metal and synthetic implants. Committed to delivering a higher standard, RTI’s implants are used in sports medicine, general surgery, spine, orthopedic, trauma, and cardiothoracic procedures and are distributed in nearly 50 countries. RTI is headquartered in Alachua, Fla., and has four manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S. and Europe. RTI is accredited in the U.S. by the American Association of Tissue Banks and is a member of AdvaMed.

RTI Donor Services is the not-for-profit subsidiary of RTI Surgical, a 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.

CryoLife, Inc. is one of the world’s leading contemporary medical device companies; providing preserved human cardiac and vascular tissues, surgical adhesives and sealants, cardiac lasers and implantable end-stage renal disease access grafts for the repair of complex cardiac and vascular reconstruction surgeries. 



Erin Morton, APR
Manager, Corporate Communications and Family Services
RTI Donor Services
(352) 281-7579

Voices of Donation

Nini will forever be our angel in the sky and a hero in our hearts.

– Renee Varela, donor mother
Anthony “Nini” Varela

“Donation can be such a special gift to people who are in desperate need of help. Let us be as generous in death as we are in life.”

– Marge Glanville, donor wife of Bob and donor mother of Robert
Glanville family

“He truly believed that his final gift would go on helping others long after he had gone.”

– Linda Frost, donor wife
Robert Frost

I was still very sad about the loss of my mother, but suddenly her death was not senseless, or meaningless. Someone benefited from it, and part of her actually lives on.

– Kathy Birthisel, donor daughter
Norma Jean Pierce

“Maria was a saint. She loved her children and husband dearly and only wanted the best for all of them.”

– Frank Fowlkes
Maria Fowlkes