Amalie Frankel stood in front of the TV, watching the Rose Parade and hoping to catch a glimpse of her son Tommy. When the float Rhythm of the Heart was announced, Amalie pressed record on her phone's video camera, pointed it at the TV and waited. Suddenly she saw her son's smiling image, beaming from a photo held in the grateful hands of Steve Shank.
Steve, who we introduced you to last year, now breathes with Tommy's lungs, one of four gifts of life Tommy gave after passing away in October 2016. The float Steve was on was sponsored by the Donate Life organization. "It's hard to describe the mix of joy and grief that comes with this process," Amalie tells us. "But seeing Steve and Tommy's faces together is the rainbow that really helps. Steve links me to the hero that Tommy became when he saved four lives. Donation is that rainbow."
Steve, an Iowa City native who grew up watching the Rose Parade (and praying for the Hawkeyes to make it to the Rose Bowl), tells us he was honored to be selected to represent Mayo Clinic on the float. "It was humbling to get the call that I'd been chosen," he says. "I couldn't believe it. It's a big deal, and not just for an Iowa boy."
Steve and his wife, Caren, have become tireless advocates for organ donation since Steve's lung transplant. Being part of the Donate Life float gave them an opportunity to spread the message to check the box and become a donor. It also allowed them to meet others who share their passion. The float featured 18 transplant recipient riders, eight living donor walkers and images of 44 donors. Riders and walkers and their families, as well as the families of donors who have passed away, gathered in Pasadena, California, for several days before the parade to decorate the float, share meals and ring in the New Year.
The entire trip was deeply meaningful for Caren, Steve and their children, Ani and Elliott. For Caren, the most powerful moment came during the judging the day before the parade, with all of the walkers, riders, and families gathered around the float. "We all had to be completely silent during judging," Caren says. When the judges arrived, the float music — Baba Yetu (The Lord's Prayer in Swahili) — began to play. "It was silent except for these powerful African beats," Caren tells us. "We were all in tears, including the judges. There was so much meaning behind the float. It was so special."
People on the parade route agreed. Steve was greeted with waves, cheers and stories as he made the five mile journey through Pasadena. "People would yell out that they were transplant patients or donors," Steve says. "You could tell a lot of people were noticing that I had Tommy's picture." Which is exactly what Steve wanted the crowd to see. "Tommy's our hero, and it's an honor to be able to share his story," he says.
Tommy's story, like other donor stories, is about saving lives. But it's also about healing them. "I was so proud to find out that Tommy had checked the organ donation box on his driver's license," Amalie says. "I have great faith that choosing life means saving lives when possible through organ donation. When tragedy strikes and loss is inevitable, another life can be saved through donation," she tells us. "I will always miss my son. And, I'm glad that Steve is able to be alive with his family. Life is filled with happiness and sadness and this is an example of that combination."
To be a life-giving hero in the case adversity, make sure you talk with your family and register as a donor. Then donate a comment below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.