A Fresno couple who know first-hand the importance of organ donations will celebrate New Year's Day spreading awareness about the need for donors from a float in the 2014 Tournament of Roses parade.
JePahl White, 38, and his wife, LaKishia, 36, will be part of the "Light Up the World" float from Donate Life, a national nonprofit that educates the public about organ and tissue donation.
White, who had two kidney transplants, will ride on the float with 29 other organ recipients while his wife, who donated a kidney, will be among a dozen living donors walking alongside the parade entry.
The float, which features five large lanterns adorned with 81 portraits of deceased donors, is expected to be about the 15th entry in the parade.
"My kidney is not my own kidney, it's a community kidney," White said during a Monday morning news conference and send-off. "With this great blessing comes great responsibility and great opportunity."
In Fresno County, there are more than 1,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, said Rick Elizondo, regional manager for the California Transplant Donor Network.
TheUniversity of California at San Francisco kidney transplant program handles 350 kidney cases a year in the Fresno area.
White, a community organizer with Faith in Community, was diagnosed with kidney disease at 18 and underwent seven and a half years of dialysis before he received a kidney from a deceased donor on June 16, 2004. The donor's second kidney was given to White's sister.
Five years later the kidney failed and White's name returned to the transplant list. LaKishia White tested to be his living donor, but was not a match. She instead decided to donate her kidney to someone else so that her husband could get another transplant.
"I did not give him the opportunity to tell me no because it was something I felt I was called to do," LaKishia White said. "I felt I was created not only to be his wife but his kidney donor. He calls me his hero, but I say he's my hero."
JePahl White received his second kidney from a living donor on Sept. 20, 2010. The donor, a Sacramento woman, is also expected to participate in the parade.
The Whites have since become big advocates for organ donation, appearing in television commercials and speaking on behalf of the donor network. They are both excited about waving to the crowd from the float next month.
"I don't mind that I'm walking -- that's OK," LaKishia White said. "I'm excited to meet other people like us and to begin just to share our stories and to just experience that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
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