by Luke Judge
PHILADELPHIA - Construction of a Rose Parade float designed toencourage organ donation led to an emotional meeting in Philadelphia on Wednesday between a heart transplant recipient andthe family of her donor, a teenager killed in a car crash.
Jessica Melore met the mother and grandparents of 18-year-old Shannon Eckert of Mechanicsburg, Pa., an only child who died in1999. Eckert's heart went to Melore, then 17, who had suffered aheart attack due to a blood clot.
"Through Jessica, Shannon lives on," said Tammy Eckert, Shannon'smother. "I'm so very proud of Jessica. I'm proud of Shannon forwhat she did."
Their meeting took place at the offices of Gift of Life, one of 58 organ and tissue transplantation networks nationwide that is sponsoring the "Donate Life" float in the annual Rose Parade.
The kite-themed entry will feature 60 floragraphs - images renderedin natural materials - of organ donors, including Eckert. On Wednesday, Melore and Tammy Eckert put the finishing touches on thepicture of Shannon, a horse enthusiast who dreamed of owning astable.
"I'm so excited for the world to bear witness to Shannon's storythrough the Rose Parade," Melore said at a news conference. "I hopethat in the way that I've lived my life, that it's done justice toher legacy."
Melore's heart attack while a student at Somerville High School inNew Jersey was only the beginning of her health challenges.Complications led to her leg being amputated, and she latersurvived two bouts with cancer.
Today, she is Princeton University graduate and a motivationalspeaker who works with organizations including the N.J. SharingNetwork, which facilitates organ and tissue transplants.
More than 21,000 transplants were performed in the U.S. in thefirst nine months of the year, according to the federal OrganProcurement and Transplantation Network. but more than 110,000patients remain on the national waiting list for organs.
Melore's parents also met Tammy Eckert, a supermarket bakerymanager, on Wednesday. Ellen Melore, of Branchburg, N.J., describedthe occasion as "very teary" and emotional, a reminder of her owndaughter's near-death experience.
"I know how close I came to that tragedy that they went through,"Melore said, referring to the Eckerts. "I wanted them to know howmuch that act of donation changed so many people's lives."
Melore will be one of 30 organ recipients riding on the "DonateLife" float on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.
Tammy Eckert said she'll be watching the parade on TV with herparents in Mechanicsburg.