In April 2003, Kari's husband Eric died in an auto accident. Miraculously, Kari and her unborn daughter survived. Kari donated her husband's tissues in accordance with his prior wishes. Their daughter Erica, born on her father's birthday, accompanied her mother to Pasadena where Kari rode the inaugural Donate Life Rose Parade Float. This past summer, Erica won the won The National American Miss Wisconsin Jr. Pre-Teen title. Her platform: the importance of organ and tissue donation. "The greatest gift my father has taught me is to not be selfish and help others whenever possible," said Erica. "He is forever with me in my heart and as my guardian angel watching over me from heaven."
Native Wisconsinites Eric and Kari Barlament met on a blind date when Kari was just 16. Married on October 17, 1998, they built their home in Brillion, a tiny northeast Wisconsin town populated by 3,000 residents. Eric worked as a master plumber, planning to start his own business someday, and taking enormous pride in his work on the project to renovate Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers football stadium.
On January 20, 2003, the Barlaments learned they were going to be parents. Eric called family and friends to share the news, and bought every book he could find on pregnancy and childbirth. He heard the baby's heartbeat at Kari's appointment with her doctor the morning of April 7. That evening, they began driving to Appleton, Wis. where they planned to shop for baby items. They never got there.
On a snow-covered portion of the highway, an oncoming driver lost control of his pickup truck, crossed the center line, and crashed into the Barlaments' car. Eric died at the scene with multiple injuries. Although Kari was injured in the crash, miraculously both she and her unborn baby survived.
There was one bright spot amid the tragedy that struck this young couple. Eric had made the commitment to be an organ and tissue donor by signing his driver's license, and shared his wishes with his family. He had even encouraged Kari—who had not given it any serious thought—to make the decision to be a donor.
Kari consented to donation of Eric's tissue—including bone, heart valves and veins—to save and heal the lives of others. "Eric believed it was our duty to help others when we died and no longer needed our body," said Kari. "Just as in life, he thought we needed to help those who needed it. When the decision had to be made about organ and tissue donation, it was easy because it was something that had been already discussed."
Kari's life was forever changed with the loss of her husband, but she finds comfort in knowing he lived on in those who received his tissue. He also lives on in his daughter Erica, born on September 5th on Eric's 31st birthday.
This past summer, Erica won the won The National American Miss Wisconsin Jr. Pre Teen title. Her platform: the importance of organ and tissue donation. "The greatest gift my father has taught me is to not be selfish and help others whenever possible," she shared in her speech at the competition. "In my eyes my father will always be my hero, and someone I never got the chance to meet in person."
As a floragraph family, Kari and Erica will share the experience of decorating Eric's portrait and watching it pass by on the heart-laden Donate Life float in the Rose Parade.
"I hope to carry on my father's unselfish nature and share his story of the greatest gift he gave to others," said Erica. "He is forever with me in my heart and as my guardian angel watching over me from heaven."