By JAIMEE LYNN FLETCHER | THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
GARDEN GROVE - Knowing that in his death he gave others life offers Vu Nguyen's family comfort.
Nguyen died on May 17, 2009 at age 34 after suffering a heart attack. For those who knew him as the man who laughed a lot but loved even more, it was no surprise he had opted to be an organ and tissue donor.
"It's great for our family to know that even though he passed away, his organs are with somebody else's loved one," said his father Chuyen Nguyen.
Nguyen is one of 60 organ, eye and tissue donors who will be honored New Year's Day onDonate Life's Rose Parade float, "Seize the Day." Nguyen worked as a reporter for theOrange County Register from 2004 through 2006 covering Garden Grove, Westminster and Little Saigon.
Portraits of the donors called "floragraphs" crafted from seeds and other non-perishables will be the focus of the float to memorialize those who gave posthumously. The float will also include 30 riders who have been impacted by organ donation, Donate Life reported.
Among those honored are two police officers from Tampa, Fla. who were shot and killed in the line of duty; several from the military who died while fighting overseas and 19 donors who died before age 20.
A Laguna Niguel resident honored her brother on the float.
Donate Life reported more than 28,000 people are saved every year because of organ donation and there are about 108,000 waiting for an organ transplant.
Nguyen's family on Dec. 18 went to Pasadena to decorate his portrait. They spent about five hours pasting seeds to the photograph for the float, Chuyen Nguyen said.
"It's a great honor knowing that his generous act has been recognized," his dad said. "We have been going to all the events that One Legacy and Donate Life had ever since Vu passed away, particularly some of the sessions to help us heal in the absence of our loved one."
Nguyen's wife, Heather Hua, said pasting flowers to fill in her husband's eyebrows and wide smile struck her as a surreal moment that simultaneously sparked painful memories and feelings of pride.
"A year and a half has passed but sometimes it still doesn't feel real," she said. "It was such a tragedy for our family but it saved someone else's life. It's a beautiful gift."
Chuyen Nguyen added his son will also be honored in Donate Life's national calendar for 2011. He will be the month of August, he said.
Nguyen's journalism career also included writing for the Seattle Times, the Associated Press, Yakima Herald-Republic, Nguoi Viet 2 in Little Saigon and the Daily Breeze.
Many Register readers wrote to thank Nguyen, who struggled with a weight problem all his life, as he chronicled his gastric bypass procedure in a series of articles in 2005.
Colleagues and friends say Vu's personality was magnetic. He was loud, fun and unforgettable.
Register reporter Fermin Leal wrote: "If the measure of a man is the love of his family, the admiration by his friends, and the respect from his peers, then Vu Nguyen was a giant."
And for 5 1/2 miles on Saturday Vu's impact will be giant-sized when millions of spectators and viewers watch as the "Seize the Day" float memorializes 60 people from across the nation who have donated life.
"I am so proud of him," Hua said. "I hope Vu will be watching New Year's morning."