By Richard J. Alley | The Commerical Appeal
Thomas "Tad" Daniel said his wife, Jill, used to talk a lot about organ donation. In fact, the ICU nurse for Baptist Memorial Hospital was adamant that, should anything happen to her, her organs and tissue should be donated in order to help others live.
"Usually it was on Friday nights when we'd get our night alone together, and if the weather was right, we'd sit on the back porch and listen to our music, and she brought it up several times," Tad Daniel said. "It wasn't even a decision for me; she made me promise her that I'd make sure her organs were donated."
Those wishes were carried out in September 2009 when 50-year-old Jill Daniel suffered several irreversible cerebral hemorrhages, leaving behind her husband and three children. In the end, the men and women with whom she worked so closely were charged with her care.
"It hits close to home, and it was very touching and very touchy, because it let us know that life is very precious and you never know when the Lord is going to call you," said Kim Gilley, an organ recovery coordinator for Mid-South Transplant Foundation, who worked with Jill over the years.
On New Year's Day, Jill's photo will adorn the Donate Life float in the Pasadena (Calif.) Rose Parade, as a way to honor her life-giving gift. The floragraph -- a portrait created with floral materials -- will be one of 60 memorial portraits representing deceased organ, eye and tissue donors. The theme of the float is "Seize the Day!" It will be decorated with kites, symbolizing "the opportunity seized to share laughter, sun, wind and the visual beauty of the moment." The float is scheduled to appear within the first half-hour of the parade, which can be seen at 10 a.m. on several channels, including HGTV.
On a cold December day in the Dr. H. Edward Garrett Sr. Auditorium at Baptist, friends and family gathered to remember Jill and to help decorate the floragraph.
The decorating project was begun in Pasadena by volunteers Judi and Dennis Sepulveda, celebrating the anniversary, 13 years apart, of their respective double-lung and liver transplants. Then it was sent to Memphis for completion.
"We want this not to be a sad occasion, but a joyous one," Kim Van Frank, director of the Mid-South Transplant Foundation, said of the memorial service for Jill.
Tad and Jill were together for 20 years, marrying one month to the day after they met. Their children, Melanie, 15, Charlie, 18, and Anna, 20, were on hand to assist their father in putting on the finishing touches and to listen to stories about their mother and her gift.
"Just to know that part of her is still here and ... able to help others," Anna said, is part of the healing process for her and her siblings.
Melanie is proud that her mother "has helped other people become organ donors."
"I was just overwhelmed," Tad said about first hearing Jill would be part of the Donate Life float. This is another aspect of keeping alive her memory in their home. "We talk about her like she's still around; it's still 'mom's car,' and she'll always be with us."
Jill's mother, Paula Womble, made the drive from Florence, Ala., to see the floragraph and was awed by the attendance. "I just can't believe it: her co-workers and people she worked with and went to school with. ... It tells me how much she was loved and the wonderful person she was."
Organ donation saves more than 28,000 lives every year, and more than 109,000 people await transplant, according to the Mid-South Transplant Foundation, the federally designated organ procurement organization serving West Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and North Mississippi. Baptist Hospital's heart and lung transplant program is celebrating its 25th year.
Organ donation was a vital part of survival that Jill saw time and again in her work. On those Friday nights on the Daniels' back porch, she would talk about some of her patients' missed opportunities for donation. "She would come home and say, 'The patient I took care of was on the ventilator, and if they'd only been an organ donor, how many lives could they have saved?' " Tad said, "and (she) made me promise her that if anything ever happened to her, to make sure she was an organ and tissue donor."
"She was always very helpful, very pro-donation, which just spoke to the type of person she was, caring and giving," Gilley said. "She was always a great teacher and a great nurse, and I think that's why she made her choice a long time ago with the donor registry and signed up to be an organ and tissue donor. It's just a testament to her character and her integrity."