PASADENA, Calif. -- Kevin Dobson got a lot of face time on New Year's Day.
In front of thousands of onlookers – and perhaps millions of Americans watching on television – the Donate Life float in the Rose Bowl parade prominently displayed a portrait of Dobson's face, along with dozens of other faces from around the world. The state trooper and Western New York native died in an accident in 2011, but he cemented his legacy by donating his tissue, estimated to have helped make 70 other people healthier. That's why an organization called CryoLife chose to sponsor Dobson on the Donate Life float— as a shining example of the impact donations can have.
"That was an amazing gift," said Michele Mehaffy, a media and communications specialist with the non-profit Unyts. "It is so well-deserved."
Unyts sent a representative to the parade as well. It chose Reverend Jeff Carter, an organ donor whose late daughter also helped saved lives with her own donations. He could be seen on television waving to the crowd, and he called the experience "surreal."
"Absolutely fantastic experience," Carter said. "Bigger than life."
Reached by phone in Pasadena, Carter said he's hopeful the exposure in the parade will impact donations in Western New York and across the state. New York in particular needs help in this category. It ranks third-to-last in the country in enrollment for the Donate Life registry. According to the New York Organ Donor Network, 22 percent of people older than 18 in this state have registered as donors. That's a far cry from the national average of 45 percent. Mehaffy attributes that to a number of reasons, including the fact that it's been difficult in the past for New Yorkers to access the registry.
Lawmakers aren't immune to the discouraging donation totals. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Lauren's Law in Oct. 2012, named in honor of Lauren Shields, who received a heart transplant at the age of nine. Lauren's Law took effect this October, and it requires New Yorkers to answer whether they'd like to be a donor when they apply for a driver's license. Previously, they could ignore the question altogether.
"You have to answer the question, which I think is helpful. It's a step in the right direction." Mehaffy said. "It's not going to increase the number of those signing up for the Donate Life registry dramatically, in the near future, but I think it is definitely a step in the right direction."