TUCSON, Ariz. — A Tucson native whose sudden death gave new life to four people will be honored in next week's Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
Liz Sutherland died nearly three years ago after slumping over from an unexpected brain aneurysm while on an evening horseback ride in Maui.
Though her tight-knit family members continue to grieve Liz's death, they can't help but smile at the notion of her likeness sitting atop a float in the renowned parade, which precedes the 2012 Rose Bowl football game Jan. 2.
Liz, who was 49 when she died, will be honored on a "Donate Life" float in recognition of her status as an organ donor. She's among 72 people from 31 states, Canada, Japan and Taiwan, many of them children, who will be honored on the float for being organ donors.
Artistic portraits of the organ donors called "floragraphs" were created with assistance from families of the honorees out of floral materials, including seeds, grains, dried flowers and spices. The portraits are displayed as floral timepieces, as a reminder of the preciousness of time with loved ones, float organizers say.
Among the other organ donor honorees is 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green of Tucson, who died along with five others on Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire during a "Congress on Your Corner" meet and greet with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Christina-Taylor's corneas were donated to save the eyesight of two people. Her mother, Roxanna Green, will be among 28 people who ride on the Donate Life float. The float's theme is "One More Day" and is part of an effort to increase the number of organ, eye and tissue donors worldwide.
Liz Sutherland's three sisters and their husbands will be in Pasadena watching the parade and celebrating the life of their free-spirited sibling. Her family says one of Liz's corneas, as well as both her kidneys, her liver and her pancreas, were transplanted into other people. Two of the organ recipients contacted the Sutherland family to thank them, including an older man who received her liver and says it saved his life.
"We've seen people have new life from Liz," sister Debbie Motzkin said.
Donate Life officials say 18 people in the U.S. die each day waiting for an organ transplant. Organ donors have the power to save up to eight lives and heal 50 more through organ, eye and tissue donation, said Donate Life float committee Chairman Bryan Stewart.
A graduate of Canyon del Oro High School and Arizona State University, Liz Sutherland had a taste for adventure and loved to travel. She was living in Maui at the time of her death, but was set to move to Colorado, where she'd also spent time. She had worked in sales and studied massage therapy, traveled to Argentina and once flew to Boston on a whim, just to see the leaves change, said her mother, Alice.
When her family was filling out papers in the Hawaiian hospital where Liz lay dying in April 2009, they wrote "free spirit" on the line that asked for Liz's occupation.
Alice Sutherland said she was so grief-stricken about losing her daughter that she struggled with the thought of her organs being harvested.
But she's since come to believe it was an act of hope and generosity that has helped her family through its heartbreaking loss. The family says two of the organ recipients live in Hawaii, a place Liz loved.
"We now have Hawaiian kin," Motzkin said. "Liz would be proud."
Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com