In 1999, suffering from severe emphysema, Gary Foxen received a lung transplant. A couple years later, Gary wrote the letter originally suggesting the entry of a Donate Life-themed float in the Rose Parade as "a way to repay society for this wonderful gift" of life. Last June, Gary was honored with the Coalition on Donation’s James M. Wolf Award for his “inspiration and commitment to increasing organ and tissue donation.”
Never in my life could I have imagined that one day I would end up being a spokesperson for organ and tissue donation, but that day came in 2001 when I became acquainted with an organization named OneLegacy. Even though a recent transplant recipient myself, I knew little about the organization or its mission.
It began with a letter suggesting that OneLegacy enter of a float in the historic Pasadena Rose parade to spread the word about the life-saving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and to celebrate the new lives of transplant recipients.
After a bit of nudging, the idea took root and I began working with OneLegacy to do what I could to make the float a reality. After months of waiting, I received a call saying that the Tournament of Roses had approved our application for an entry in the 2004 parade. That message marked one of my best days ever and the beginning of a more meaningful chapter in my life.
Prior to 1999, I was desperately ill suffering from emphysema, on oxygen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was a great chore just to stay alive. I am extremely embarrassed to say that my emphysema was caused, in large part, by a smoking habit that almost killed me. It was only the possibility of a lung transplant that caused me to quit.
I received that precious organ in June 1999 from a deceased and anonymous donor whose family I have not had the pleasure of meeting. I have enormous gratitude for these people and for the medical team at UCLA Medical Center who believed in me and my potential.
My dream for a float came after I helped decorate the Auto Club’s float for two years and I am convinced that my thought was divinely inspired. I have seen two Donate Life floats developed, designed and decorated by hundreds of volunteers who want to honor the memory of their loved ones passed and to show their support for organ and tissue donation. The messages and stories that have been generated by these caring individuals have been most inspiring and I have come to appreciate the tremendous impact of these floats. This, thanks to the talent and hard work of those who made the floats a reality.
Last June, I was honored to receive the Coalition on Donation’s James Wolf, MD award for my “Inspiration and Commitment to Increasing Organ and Tissue Donation” and this year I have been invited to be one of the 23 riders on the 2006 Donate Life Float.
I am fond of horses and compare my chance to ride on the float as being like a person who grooms and trains a beautiful horse for some time, then gets the news that he will be able to ride it in the Kentucky Derby.
In my 70th year of life, I feel fortunate to have had my illness because it has put me in contact with a unique community of caring and committed individuals who are doing God’s work. It does not get much better than this.