People often want to know how Carolyn Dickson feels as the recipient of a double-lung transplant, living with another person’s organs inside her.
“Alive. Blessed. How do you think I feel?” Dickson says in a telephone interview from Pasadena, where she’ll be one of 18 transplant recipients riding atop a float in the annual Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
Dickson will represent Fresno as an ambassador for the Donor Network West, the federally designated organ and tissue recovery organization for Central and Northern California and Northern Nevada.
She’s been in Pasadena since Saturday, helping decorate the float along with her husband Larry (also a Donor Network West ambassador) and Denisse Espinoza Castro, whose mother Maria Castro Martínez suffered a stroke and died in March 2016.
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That was the same month Dickson was told her lungs could fail at any moment.
Dickson had been living with sarcoidosis since the 1970s, but by 2016, she depended on portable oxygen tanks or a concentrator to do any kind of activity. Her name stayed on the transplant wait list for 18 months before Martinez’s family donated the organs that saved her life.
On Sunday, the families placed a rose on the float, along with a simple note to remember Martinez.
“Thank you for the great blessing that you are. We love you and miss you,” it read in Spanish.
Dickson was able to meet Martinez’s family last year and they became close. That’s something that doesn’t typically happen with organ donations, Dickson says. Taking part in the parade is a way to show her love and the gratitude she feels for the Martinez family and the sacrifice they made.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Dickson says.
“And maybe a way of letting others know the importance of being a donor.”
Already, she’s had two friends contact her after seeing her story in the news. Both those friends later become donors. She hopes there are others.
Donors are especially important in Fresno County, where 957 people are currently waiting for transplants, according to data from Donor Network West.
“I don’t need to know about it,” Dickson says.
“Just do it.”
And do it sooner than later, she says.
If it’s something you believe in, you shouldn’t leave it to your family to decide, Dickson says.
“While you’re alive you can make your wishes known.”
“130th Tournament of Roses Parade”
Coverage starts at 8 a.m. on NBC, ABC, Hallmark Channel