ORANGE – Michelle Meier honored her son's memory with a single red rose at the Rose Parade earlier this year. A rose for Hayden Meier rode on the Donate Life parade float along with more than a thousand other roses, each one dedicated to people who have lost their lives, but saved others through the gift of organ and tissue donation.
Hayden Meier was 14 when he was fatally struck by a car in July 2009.
Meier and her family plan to make Hayden a part of the 2011 Rose Parade, too. The Meiers were among a dozen families recently presented with certificates, long-stemmed roses and vials on which to write dedications to their loved ones that will be placed on this year's Donate Life float.
The presentation was part of the fourth annual UC Irvine Healthcare Donate Life Rose Ceremony. There were many tears and hugs from the UC Irvine Medical Center care team at an emotional outdoor reception.
UC Irvine Medical Center collaborated withOneLegacy – a Los Angeles-area nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization – to honor the families of organ and tissue donors. OneLegacy is a program connected to to Donate Life, a national organization that aims to educate the public about the organ donation.
The ceremony featured guest speakers from the medical center and OneLegacy in addition to members of the donation community. Liver transplant recipient Stephanie McMackin spoke of how fulfilled her life had been because of an organ donor. Donor wife Kathryn Jennell spoke about her husband John and the special meaning of being a loved one of an organ donor.
"We got to save lives when they passed away," Jennell said. "Not everyone can say that."
From October 2008 to March 2010, UC Irvine Medical Center has transplanted 77 organs from 28 donors, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One organ donor can save up to eight lives and one tissue donor can save the lives of up to 50 others, according to information from OneLegacy.
Meier made the decision to donate her son's tissue soon after her son was struck.
Michelle Meier has been a registered organ donor since the age of 16, she said, as is her mother. Meier said she had discussed organ donation with Hayden and his twin sister Kaitlyn prior to the accident, and knew it was what he wanted.
"We both knew. Hayden was a giver," Meier said of her son. "He was always giving to his friends."
The time since Hayden's death has been difficult, Meier said, but the family is doing the best it can. They are heavily involved with Donate Life, participating in the annual Donate Life run and walk and becoming ambassadors for the program. Meier has set her sights on becoming involved with the medical center's Trauma Intervention Program.
Meier said they still put up Hayden's stocking during the holidays and even take his ashes with them if they go on vacation. Hayden would have turned 16 on Oct. 10 with his sister Kaitlyn. Meier took Kaitlyn and about 19 of her and Hayden's friends to Knott's Scary Farm – one of Hayden's favorite places to go each year.
"We do a lot of stuff that reminds of us him," Meier said.
Meier said her son is always with her, pointing out a red dragonfly pin on her shirt and explaining the story behind it:
There was a water bug colony where water bugs would ascend water lily stems, never to be seen again. The next water bug to leave the colony promised the others it would return to tell them what was in the world above. The bug received its wings at the top and turned into a dragonfly in a wonderful world of open air and sunshine. Though he could not return, the water bugs would learn they each had to make their own journey to the top.
Meier said a dragonfly landed on the family car the day after hundreds of friends and family showed up to a celebration of Hayden's life just after he was killed.
At the end of the Donate Life rose ceremony, she held up the rose vial with a written dedication to her son:
"Hayden, we miss you every day and love you with all our hearts. Thank you for the dragonflies."
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DEDICATE A ROSE ON THE 2011 DONATE LIFE ROSE PARADE FLOAT
A rose is a symbol of love, loss and renewal. It represents something different to every family; to some it is hope, to others it is grief and to still others it is gratitude.
The Donate Life Family Circle Rose Dedication Program offers all families touched by organ and tissue donation the opportunity to honor their loved ones by dedicating a rose that is tagged with a personal message and placed in the Family Circle Garden, a living memorial on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float.