Denver’s Jeff Leone considers all organ, eye and tissue donors and their families heroes. He knows this to be true because he has received two kidneys in his life—one from a 23-year-old man who lost his life in a car accident, and the other as a living donation from his wife. Jeff is gearing up to join 24 others from around the country escorting the 15th annual Donate Life Rose Parade float in the nationally televised Rose Parade on January 1 in Pasadena, CA. The 2018 Donate Life float will inspire viewers worldwide to save and heal lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.
A bruised kidney in 1984 led Jeff to the doctor where he eventually learned he had kidney disease. Twelve years later, he entered end-stage kidney failure and began dialysis. In 1999 Jeff received his first transplant. When he and his family learned of his gift, they were ecstatic at first, only to be overcome with the realization that someone else was grieving the loss of their loved one that had made the decision to become a donor.
Jeff’s donor was Christopher Mendoza. His mother, Lena, had respected her son’s wishes to donate his organs after he was tragically killed in a car accident. Christopher’s gift allowed Jeff to fulfill his dream of becoming a high school science teacher – a career he enjoyed in the Denver public school system for 13 years until he again approached end-stage kidney failure.
Even though she had not previously met the requirements, Jeff’s wife Robyn was a suitable match for his second transplant thanks to advances in medical technology. She gave him a kidney in 2013. Since his second transplant, Jeff fulfills his passion for science and teaching as a Transplantation Science Educator – he teaches the science behind and importance of donation and transplantation to thousands of young people across Colorado and Wyoming each year. The Transplantation Science program is administered by Donor Alliance, the federally designated not-for-profit organization that facilitates organ and tissue donation in Colorado and most of Wyoming.
“I consider all donors and their families to be heroes because I am living proof that donors give those in need of a transplant the ability to thrive in all roles of our lives, instead of just survive,” Jeff said. “I feel very fortunate to have been given the gift of life, so I am going to do all that I can to help facilitate as many people getting transplants as possible.”
Jeff’s participation in the parade is sponsored by Donor Alliance. The organization has funded float participants with the Donate Life float for more than a decade. Some of Jeff’s current and former Transplantation Science students are also showing their support with a special sendoff event for Jeff on Dec. 5 following one of his classes at Denver Center for International Studies.
“The Donate Life float has become the world’s most visible campaign to inspire donation, and we are incredibly grateful that Jeff is able to be a part of it and share his story,” said Sue Dunn, president and CEO of Donor Alliance. “With more than 2,500 people in Colorado and nearly 120,000 nationwide currently waiting for a lifesaving transplant, we are hopeful that the impact donation and transplantation has had on Jeff’s life and the lives of those represented on this year’s float will be felt nationwide, and inspire Coloradans and people across the country to register to be donors.”
This year’s float, The Gift of Time, reflects the parade’s theme of Making a Difference, by celebrating the kindness of people throughout the world who are making a positive difference in the lives of others. Perhaps no act is more emblematic of this than becoming an organ, eye and tissue donor: a single organ donor can save and improve the lives of up to eight people through organ donation and as many as 75 more through tissue donation.
The 129th Rose Parade will start at 8 a.m. PST on January 1, 2018 and be broadcast live in the U.S. by broadcast partners ABC, NBC, HGTV, Hallmark Channel, Univision and more. Check local broadcast listings for more information. For more information about the 2018 Donate Life Rose Parade Float, visit http://www.donatelifefloat.org.