Rose Parade

RTI Donor Services has helped sponsor the Donate Life Float since its first Tournament of Roses Parade appearance in 2004.

The float is designed to help raise awareness of organ and tissue donation and transplantation. Each year, RTI Donor Services’ sponsorship includes the selection of a float rider to represent the importance of tissue donation.

2015 Float Rider

Floragraph Honoree Mike Erickson and Float Rider Colin Lepley

Floragraph Honoree Mike Erickson and Float Rider Colin Lepley

Growing up, Mike Erickson played football and enjoyed the outdoors. He was very quick-witted, with an exceptional sense of humor. His mother Dorothy describes him as a computer geek and said he had talked to going to school in the computer field. Before graduation, Mike enlisted in the Marine Corp.

Giving the Gift of Life

Mike tragically passed away at the age of 28. He donated his tissues, organs and corneas, helping more than 100 people through his gift.

“When I got the word that he was in the ER, I headed out immediately,” Dorothy said. “My mind was full of Mike and his life, which was ending way too soon. I knew before I arrived at the hospital that if it were an option, Mike would have wanted to help others one last time. That's why I made the decision to donate.”

Dorothy believes in the gift of life and has become an advocate for it. “Because of, or in spite of, our losses, many others will have the opportunity to have better lives. We can't do better than that.”

Mike’s parents have exchanged letters with Colin, the recipient of one of Mike’s tissue grafts. Colin has expressed his deep sense of gratitude to Mike’s parents for the gift of tissue donation. Dorothy expressed that she had been hoping and praying that the recipients of Mike’s gifts had been getting stronger and resuming normal lives, and receiving Colin’s letter helped to answer that question.

“If you were wondering what kind of individual our son was, he was kind hearted and quiet, and I know he would be very happy to know that part of him lives on in you,” wrote Dorothy. “I hope his gift makes a positive difference in your life and that you go on to do all the things you dream of.”

Receiving the Gift of Life

During Colin’s junior year baseball season, he injured his knee sliding into second base. One morning, Colin could not get out of bed because his knee had locked and he could not bend it. He visited his doctor, and within four days, he was in surgery.

Colin’s doctor told him that he could repair his knee by removing 50 percent of the weight bearing in that knee. The surgeon would need to perform an allograft transplant to replace what he was removing.

“Thanks to my donor, I will be able to function normally in my daily life and live without the pain it was causing me,” Colin said. “I have truly been blessed and I have learned an important lesson in life. I will be able to function normally again and will not take that for granted.”

Colin also says that he plans on being a donor himself, which is something he never had thought of before he “realized how special it is to receive a gift that is so important.”

Mike was honored with a special portrait that adorned the 2015 Donate Life Float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena. Mike’s floragraph, decorated with grains, flowers, seeds, spices and other organic materials, is one of 72 on the float, and Colin was one of the float’s 30 riders.   

Previous Rose Parade Float Riders

Evan Hauk: Floragraph Honoree

2014: Evan Hauk: Floragraph Honoree

At the age of 13 ½, Evan Hauk was preparing for a family fishing trip by using worm prods to search for bait in the backyard when he fell on top of a prod and suffered an electrical shock that stopped his heart.

“Evan had a heart of gold,” said his mother Jessica. “His smile would light up a room. He always knew when you needed a hug or laugh. He had a way of starting to laugh at the smallest thing and making others laugh too.

Evan had bright blue eyes that lit up when he smiled. He loved fishing, hunting, football, snow skiing, water skiing, hiking in the mountains, and being outside. He was a natural athlete and excelled at just about any sport he tried. He was always finding adventures with his sister, and he taught his little brother how to play sports.

Jessica said that donating Evan’s tissue was a very easy decision to make. “When we knew Evan’s heart wouldn’t start again, the nurse asked me if we had thought about donation. I answered yes immediately.”

Jessica said she knew Evan would want to help others if he could. They donated his corneas, heart valves, and the bones and connective tissue from his legs. If Evan could help another to live a longer, healthy life, the Hauk family wanted to help make that possible. “He lived a very full life in his short 13 years on Earth and did more than many do their entire lives,” Jessica said. “We hope whoever has received the gifts from him will do the same.” 

“Donation is helping Evan to live on,” Jessica said. “It keeps his memory alive and we know that somewhere out there someone has a part of him and is living a better life because of him.”  

Harry Rambo

2014: Harry Rambo

Harry Rambo, an allograft tissue recipient, was chosen as a rider on the Donate Life float in honor of the thousands of individuals who donate tissue including bone, skin, heart valves, connective tissue, veins and pericardium and those who receive life restoring tissue transplants each year. 

Harry Rambo’s story began several years ago when he was skydiving from 9,000 feet. Strong wind conditions forced him to misjudge his landing, and he hit the ground at more than 25 miles per hour and shattered his right femur. The point of impact was Harry’s right hip. The head of the femur was separated from the bone, and the shaft was shattered. His doctor used cancellous chips processed from a human donor to help rebuild his leg. Cancellous chips provide a scaffold for bone ingrowth and allow for remodeling with the patient’s own bone. It has been several years since Harry’s transplant and he says he has lived pain-free.

Sue Pasewald

2013: Sue Pasewald

Sue Pasewald, mother of tissue donor Christina, rode the 2013 Donate Life float in recognition of the thousands of individuals who donate tissue to enhance the lives of others every year.

Sue and her husband Dave were blessed with five children – Ron, Julie, Amy, Christina and David. Their daughter Christina was born on March 25, 1984. According to Sue, Christina achieved so much in her short life, and she had a way about her that caused everyone who came into contact with her to love her. On July 2, 2007, Christina was tragically taken from Sue and Dave. 

“We have begged God to please give our little girl back, but God has other plans for her,” Sue said.

Sue is very passionate about organ and tissue donation and serves as a Donor Family Ambassador volunteer with RTI Donor Services. In addition to having a donation booth at her reception desk at work, she enjoys speaking about donation, sharing Christina’s story and providing donation information to others throughout her community.

Sue said “I have become aware of how many people are waiting for organs and tissue. It makes me even more eager to spread the word of how just one person can help so many. Don't waste what could help someone else. Our beautiful daughter’s memory lives on forever.”

Valerie Fourtunia

2012: Valerie Fourtunia

A Texas mother honored the lives of her two sons and thousands of others who gave the gift of life through organ and tissue donation as one of 28 people riding a special float in the 2012 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

Valerie Fourtunia, mother of tissue donors Mike and Jeremy, rode the Donate Life float in recognition of the thousands of individuals who donate tissue each year. Valerie’s trip to Pasadena was sponsored by RTI Donor Services, one of more than 100 associations across the nation—including organ and tissue recovery organizations, industry partners, transplant centers and transplant recipient groups—supporting the float project. This was RTI’s ninth consecutive year supporting the program.

Valerie’s son Mike was 22 years old when he was involved in a fatal car accident. Mike’s older brother Jeremy, whom he idolized, also passed away in a fatal car accident at the age of 16. Mike was 10 years old at the time. “My two boys, the bright lights of my life, are the only children I was blessed with,” Valerie said. “I feel as if they are together again, but still always with me.”

Catherine Casey

2011: Catherine Casey

Minneapolis police officer Catherine Casey, mother of tissue donor Deanna Casey, rode the 2011 Donate Life float in honor of tissue donors worldwide. This was RTI’s eighth consecutive year supporting the program. The float recognizes the thousands of people who give the gift of life through organ and tissue donation each year and was one of 90 parade floats and units in this year’s “Building Dreams, Friendships and Memories,” themed parade. The Donate Life float presented the theme “Seize the Day” as its colorful kites represented donor families, living donors and transplant recipients making new memories through a precious moment.

Catherine lost her daughter Deanna at the age of 16 in a car accident as a result of an impaired driver. According to Catherine, at the time Deanna received her driver’s license a fateful mother-daughter conversation took place where they talked about donation. They both agreed that donation was the right thing to do.

Tim Heffernan

2010: Tim Heffernan

Tim Heffernan, donor son, honored his mother and others who gave the gift of life through organ and tissue donation as one of 24 people riding a special float in the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif. The Donate Life float, one of 90 parade floats and units in the 2010 celebration presented the theme “New Life Rises” as it symbolizes the importance of donation. Tim is an employee of RTI Surgical. His mother, Linda, passed away suddenly at the age of 50 in February 1999 from a pulmonary embolism, five days after undergoing elective surgery. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother and a friend. She raised three children – son Tim and two older sisters, Karen and Kim.

Theresa Lozada

2009: Theresa Lozada

Theresa Lozada, donor wife, represented RTI Donor Services as a rider on the 2009 Donate Life Float. She was among 26 riders who represented the millions of people touched by organ and tissue donation. Her husband was honored for giving the gift of life with his picture appearing on a gold star floragraph. In February 2008, her husband, Victor, passed away after having an accident while on duty riding in the motorcade protecting Hillary Clinton in Dallas, Tx. He was 49 years old. Theresa and her children discussed donation and decided that it was the right thing to do. “We saw it as a way for him to live on, and we wanted to give someone else a second chance,” she says.

Dawn Giese

2008: Dawn Giese

Tissue recipient and registered nurse Dawn Giese, left, represented RTI Donor Services as a rider on the 2008 Donate Life Float in recognition of the thousands of people who donate tissue each year. The Shawano, Wis. resident was among 24 people riding the special float in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif. The pain in Dawn Giese’s lower back began in 2004 due to a spinal stress fracture. It was devastating for the then 42-year-old registered nurse when she tried to walk up and down stairs, roll over in bed, or drive a long distance. After six more months of pain and limited mobility, Dawn underwent transplant surgery to replace her fractured vertebrae. The procedure changed her life. “I tell people, especially other transplant patients, that I’m 95 percent pain-free, 95 percent of the time,” she said. “There’s really nothing I can’t do.”

Susan Giess

2007: Susan Giess

Donor mom Susan Giess, left, from Palmetto, Ga., holds a photo of her daughter Mandy and waves to the crowd during the 2007 Rose Parade. Susan represented RTI Donor Services as a rider on the Donate Life Float, and helped raise awareness of the importance of tissue donation.

Mary Ann Venturelli

2006: Mary Ann Venturelli

Mary Ann Venturelli, donor mom, rides the Donate Life Float in memory of her daughter and tissue donor Trina.