Mark and Gail Gallagher's 26-year-old daughter, Kate, was on the transplant list awaiting a donor liver when she suffered the cerebral hemorrhage that ended her life in March 2012.
Despite the fact that Kate had liver disease and was on the waiting list herself, she saved three lives through the donation of both kidneys and her heart, which went to a 12-year-old girl.
For her parents, continuing to share Kate's story in the years after her death is about more than keeping memories alive.
"People will say, 'I'm not an organ donor because I had cancer, or I have high blood pressure,'" said Gail, who lives in Monument. "Kate was waiting for a liver, and her health wasn't the best, but she still was able to be a donor. Kate's story proves that people, regardless of their medical condition, should consider registering. Don't rule yourself out medically because you just never know."
As a trained donor volunteer and advocate for Donor Alliance, Gail serves as a resource for potential donors and recipients within the hospital setting, and also speaks publicly to raise awareness in the community about organ and tissue donation. She'll take that message to a national stage Friday as one of two-dozen riders on the 2016 Donate Life Rose Parade Float.
"Riders are a mix of recipient and donor families, but it's mostly recipients of tissue and organ donation. There's a big variety of different stories of why the people are participating. It's amazing," said Gail, who will represent Colorado on the float during the nationally televised Tournament of Roses Parade down the streets of Pasadena, Calif. She'll be carrying a photograph of Kate, a 2005 Air Academy High School graduate who, as a senior, was diagnosed with Budd-Chiari syndrome, a clotting disease of the liver, and four years later was placed on the transplant list.
"Because I'm a volunteer and Kate has a little bit of a unique story, in that she was waiting for a transplant and then became a donor, they decided to ask me to do it. I'm just so thrilled and honored that they would do that," Gail said.
Each day in the U.S., approximately 22 people die waiting for organ transplants. Colorado is consistently among the top three states in donor designation rates, with more than two-thirds of residents on the Donate Life Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. Even so, nearly 2,700 people statewide are awaiting a lifesaving transplant, said Andrea Smith, communications director for Donor Alliance, the nonprofit organization federally designated to handle all aspects of donor organ and tissue procurement in Colorado and most of Wyoming.
"Certainly Colorado is above the curve in terms of establishing a donor registry . and we have some of the most active donation awareness efforts in the country," Smith said.
"The more people that understand what organ and tissue donation is, how it works and what it's about, the more people support it and the more lives are saved."
The Tournament of Roses Parade - billed as "America's New Year Celebration" - is an ideal vehicle for getting that message out to a wide audience, Smith added.
"It's a really great opportunity to tie the organ and tissue donation message into pop culture and the world," Smith said. "The Rose Parade floats all have to be made of 100 percent organic material. It's an amazing thing to see and an amazing thing to be a part of. This is really the most visible public celebration of organ, eye and tissue donation because so many people watch the parade."