ALACHUA, Fla.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–RTI Donor Services, a not-for-profit 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, is pleased to announce that the organization is continuing its
sponsorship of the Donate Life Float in the 2017 Rose Parade.
RTI Donor Services has the honor of sponsoring both a donor family and
tissue recipient to participate in the 2017 Donate Life Rose Parade
Float. Our sponsored tissue donor, 59-year-old Tom Russell of Pittsburg,
Texas, will be memorialized through a special portrait called a
floragraph, which will adorn the float. Tom’s floragraph is decorated
with grains, flowers, seeds, spices and other organic materials. Tom’s
family had the opportunity to place the finishing touches on his
floragraph in November at a special ceremony in Winnsboro, Texas. RTI
Donor Services’ sponsored tissue recipient and float rider is Karen
Wilkinson, 44, of Naples, Fla. Wilkinson is a wife and mother whose life
was restored after receiving a tissue transplant following an injury
during a family ski trip.
RTI Donor Services is sponsoring both families’ trips to Pasadena to
participate in the Rose Parade festivities, culminating in watching
Karen riding the float featuring Tom’s floragraph travel down Colorado
About the Donate Life Float
RTI Donor Services has been a sponsor of the Donate Life Float since its
inception in the Rose Parade in 2004. This year’s Donate Life Float,
“Teammates in Life,” proudly represents the 2017 Rose Parade theme,
“Echoes of Success,” by reminding us that no one succeeds alone. We all
thrive by working together and pulling in the same direction. Donors
save the lives of grateful recipients and help families heal, and it is
the large community of registered donors that makes it possible to save
thousands of lives across the country each year.
The 2017 float depicts a spectacular Polynesian catamaran, which will be
propelled by a team of 24 organ, eye, and tissue transplant recipients
rowing in unison with strength gained from their donors.
The sails of the vessel will feature 60 floral portraits of donors. Just
as the donors’ gifts empower the lives of others, the sails help power
the catamaran on its journey. Twelve living donors will walk alongside
the float carrying flowers in celebration of the life they have given to
others and the quality of life they continue to enjoy themselves. The
ocean waves will showcase 1,000 white Akito roses, individually
dedicated in memory of specific donors.
The 128th Rose Parade will take place on Jan. 2 at 8 a.m. (PST). For
more information on the Donate Life float, visit the official website at www.donatelifefloat.org.
Tom Russell’s Story
Tom Russell, of Pittsburg, Texas, passed away in January 2013 at 59
years old from pulmonary embolisms. A devoted husband and father, he
died just two weeks short of celebrating 26 years of marriage with his
wife Kathi. “On January 2, 2013, I found myself tearfully chasing a
helicopter, praying that my most beloved husband would still be alive
when I arrived an hour later at the hospital,” said Kathi. Three days
later, Tom unexpectedly passed away. Kathi describes losing Tom, only
hours after their children and friends had arrived back at their distant
homes, as one of the worst times of her life.
Tom’s wife and children knew that Tom wanted to be an organ and tissue
donor upon his death. He had signed up as a donor and would expect
nothing less. It wasn’t even an option to disregard his wishes, Kathi
said. “It was 2 a.m. when I was informed that the donation organization
would call around 3 a.m.,” Kathi explained. “Even through the numbness,
I gained purpose to take care of business.” Everyone that knew Tom
agreed that was exactly what he would have done.
“The RTI Donor Services’ representative was genuinely sympathetic and
kind by clearly, but gently, explaining the donor process,” Kathi
continued. She and their family are grateful to RTI Donor Services for
providing comfort and sympathy at such a difficult time.
Tom’s loved ones were informed that he has restored the lives of many
through tissue donation and has given sight to two recipients. “It
definitely helps us feel a living connection with him,” Kathi said.
Tom worked as a Business Services Manager for GTE/Verizon for 26 years.
After choosing to retire, he became a substitute teacher and was awarded
“Substitute Teacher of the Year” by one of his favorite schools. Tom was
known as a strong, intelligent, fun loving, caring and giving family man
who was loved by many. All who knew him would agree he had a “get it
done, no time wasted” attitude and was a faithful and loving servant to
all. Their children and grandchildren especially agree with Kathi. “If
Tom saw a need, he just jumped on it and tried to meet it.”
“Tom’s wish was to give of himself, even after this life,” Kathi
concluded. “And, so he did!”
Karen Wilkinson’s Story
Just like every Christmas vacation, the Wilkinsons traveled with a group
of friends for their annual ski trip. However, their 2014 Christmas trip
made a lasting impact in the life of Karen Wilkinson. What started off
as a fun family vacation turned into a painful stay at a Montana hotel
as Wilkinson focused on elevating her knee and trying not to move it in
an effort to reduce the pain in her left leg.
While on the slopes, Wilkinson tried avoiding a high speed collision. In
her effort to try to avoid the collision, she tore her Anterior Cruciate
Her orthopedic surgeon encouraged her to consider an allograft
procedure, through which she would receive a tissue donation to repair
her ACL. She and her husband were longtime supporters of organ and
tissue donation, so she knew it was the right thing to do.
“I have always been in support of tissue donation,” she said. Wilkinson
worked in hospital and trauma settings for 15 years as a respiratory
therapist for a level one trauma center where she placed patients on and
off life support and assisted in the process of organ donation.
“I have always enjoyed fitness and healthy nutrition,” Wilkinson said.
“My hobbies are gardening, scuba diving, weight lifting and cardio, and
cooking classes.” She is currently a network marketer for super food
nutrition and cleanses.
Wilkinson teaches Bible studies in her community and can be found
hanging out as a youth group leader for teenage girls. “I am a mom to
two teenage boys, and I have been happily married for 20 years,” she
“My husband donated bone marrow twice and all four of my family members
are donors as noted on our licenses,” she said. “Obviously, receiving a
donated ACL personally gives even more meaning to my support of tissue
After her accident, she was unable to bear any weight on her left leg.
Now, she can exercise with little limitations. “I can continue to be
active as I was before the accident,” she said.
Today, more than 119,500 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 www.registerme.org
to find out how to designate your donation wishes in your state.
RTI Donor Services is a not-for-profit 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 and can be found online at www.rtidonorservices.org
Video/interview opportunities available.
RTI Donor Services
Erin Morton, 352-519-8351
Corporate Communications and Family Services