Rose Parade Float Honors Organ, Eye and Tissue Donors, Carries Messages From the Heart

Donate-Life-Rose-Ceremony-2018For the eighth 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 2019 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 remembers 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.

Tom Michna, a heart transplant recipient from Hammond, told those in attendance that he realizes that not everyone gets a second chance. He said he doesn’t consider himself a hero, but that the true heroes are the family members of the donor.

“The family needs to know that whoever they lost lives on and that the person who got their loved one’s heart is going to be a great steward of that gift,” Michna said. “The real heroes are the family members who supported me; the donor who was brave enough to sign the consent form and the family who eventually signed the papers to donate their loved one’s organ.”

Kathleen Sojka, a retired nurse from the emergency department at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago and a cornea transplant recipient, said those who decide to donate give the ultimate selfless gift of life.

In 2004, Sojka was diagnosed with advanced 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.

At the time of her diagnosis, Sojka said she was having trouble driving at night.

“I couldn’t see the lights very well and my commute became miserable,” the Valparaiso resident explained having to travel 60 miles to and from work. “If I wouldn’t have had the transplant, I would be disabled and not have a job. I would not be able to see the beautiful details of life such as my grandchildren’s faces, the leaves on the trees and all of the beauty that life has to offer.”

“I tell my story to express my gratitude and in the hopes that it moves someone else to make that choice to donate their loved ones’ organs and make a difference in their lives,” Sojka said.

The theme for the 130th Rose Parade is “The Melody of Life,” which celebrates music as the universal language. With this in mind, the 2019 Donate Life float called “Rhythm of the Heart,” highlights the musical diversity and rhythms of Africa. The float will carry donor families, living donors and transplant recipients as part of the Rose Bowl events Tuesday, January 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

The parade audience will experience the music of Africa in a vibrant, colorful float that features musical instruments and cultural artifacts that represent different African countries and cultures.

Drums from Senegal and the Congo will carefully integrate 44 floral portraits in their beautiful design, honoring the brave lives of deceased donors. Overlooking the floragraphs is a mask from the Ivory Coast that gives thanks to ancestors and remembers those who have gone before. Twenty-six living donors or transplant recipients will ride or walk beside the float. Rising above the rear of the float are spectacular headdresses from Mali; these stylized antelope headdresses are featured in dances that teach youth the value of community, in the same way the donation and transplantation community come together to share the importance of donation.

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