2014 Riders

The Donate Life float’s Riders represent millions of organ, tissue and cornea transplant recipients who are grateful to donors for their gifts of life.


Julie M. Allred
Julie Allred was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, often known as juvenile or insulin dependent diabetes, at the age of 10. At that time, in the late 1970s, treatment options were limited; she was not expected to live to 30 or have children. Julie overcame tremendous odds to make it to her thirties – and gave birth to a healthy daughter. By age 40 she was beginning to experience daily episodes of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Through a clinical trial, Julie received transplanted pancreatic islet cells, which produce insulin, in 2011 and 2012. As life threatening episodes of hypoglycemia came to an end, Julie sees life as “filled with excitement instead of fear.”

Melissa Bensouda
At 24 years old, Melissa was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease after giving birth to her second daughter. After her third child, a son, was born, she lost all kidney function. Melissa’s choice to undergo home-based hemodialysis enabled her to continue her full time job, raise two daughters and a severely autistic son on her own, and advocate for kidney patients. On April 16, 2012, Melissa’s wait of nearly ten years for a transplant finally came to an end. Melissa looks forward to connecting with the family of her life-saving donor in the near future so she can share with them what their generosity has made possible.

Edward A. Bonfiglio
Edward is an American hero. During his third deployment in 2009, the Navy Corpsman was on a routine foot patrol in Afghanistan when his unit was ambushed. Edward took a round to the sciatic nerve in his left leg and lost all function and feeling below his knee. Edward opted for surgery to repair the severed peripheral nerve with a nerve allograft for bridging severed nerves. Less than three years later, he was able to walk and jog independently. Now 28, the Purple Heart recipient is a student at Penn State University where he is studying to be a physician’s assistant and is actively training for the Paralympics.

Kim Burdakin
In April 2000, after a sudden onset of acute liver failure, Kim Burdakin’s sister Kay volunteered to donate a portion of her liver to save Kim’s life. Just as the operation was getting underway, the liver of a young Michigan man who died in a car accident was allocated to Kim. Soon after her transplant, Kim began writing to her donor family; by 2008 she had met the family of then-21-year-old Steven Toth. Thanks to Steven’s gift, Kim was able to marry her best friend Dave, see her daughters graduate from college, and celebrate at her oldest daughter’s wedding. Said Kim, “Every day I thank God for giving me the faith to believe in miracles!”

Faith Carlin
At age 15, Faith Carlin was diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes. Due to complications over the years, she was placed on the list for a kidney and pancreas transplant. At 31, she received her transplanted organs from donor Douglas Shriver. “Doug’s gifts of a kidney and pancreas have kept me healthy for 21 years, and I now work part-time with the National Transplantation Pregnancy Registry at Gift of Life Institute,” Faith said. “These gifts have allowed me to become a wife, mother, volunteer and research coordinator with the NTPR, and to develop relationships with fellow transplant recipients and with donor family members that I cherish. For this, I am forever grateful to Doug and his family.”

John Cervantes
John Cervantes suffered kidney problems from an early age, including surgery at age 14 for bilateral kidney stone removal. While John experienced infections off and on for two decades, he didn’t let it get in the way of his dream to be a police officer. In 2009, after a bad infection led to a dramatic drop in kidney function, John went on dialysis and his transplant journey began. His brother Michael ended up being a match, and the transplant made a world of difference to John. “The next day after the transplant, I felt amazing – so much more energy!” John thanks his family, the Chino Police Department (his employer of 12 years) and God for his life.

Yang-Chuan Chang
In 1995, at the age of 35, Yang-Chuan Chang caught a bad cold that led to kidney failure. After nine years of waiting on the transplant list, Yang-Chuan received a call from Tzu Chi Hospital in Hualien that a donated kidney had been matched to him, and he now enjoys a life free from dialysis. “I feel alive,” said Yang-Chuan. “I am grateful to donors and donor families every single day for saving me and my family.” As a way to “pay it forward,” Yang-Chuan dedicates his time as a Tzu Chi Commissioner leading the Hualien area in charity works “to relieve our community from suffering.”

Dan Cuda
In 1985, Jeanne and Dan Cuda’s seven-year-old son Brad was fatally struck by a vehicle. Even at such a young age he knew he wanted to be an organ donor. Twenty-two years later, the Cudas received an unexpected letter from one of the recipients, who was an 18-year-old college freshman when she received one of Brad’s kidneys. Ironically, following a diagnosis of polycistic kidney disease, at the age of 48 Dan received a transplant in November 1993. Two decades later he can say, “This was a life-saving and life-changing experience that allowed me to be healthy and happy once again.”

Nita French
Nita French had lived with diabetes since the seventh grade, but it wasn’t until she became pregnant that she suffered kidney failure. Her life changed dramatically in 2001 when, after two years on the transplant waiting list, a donated kidney and pancreas was matched to her. Since then she has been able to enjoy her role as a wife and mother of four children, three of whom were remarkably born after her transplant. “Every day that I get to raise my children, to love my husband, to serve in my church, to live in my community is a tribute to Patrick, his parents and their family,” shared Nita.

Brian Keith Gilliam
Born with aortic stenosis, Brian Gilliam wasn’t diagnosed with congestive heart failure until 2004. His only chance for survival was a heart transplant, which he received on Nov. 23, 2008. Brian’s experience, and the loss of his son Chad in 2000, has made him extraordinarily passionate about donation and the Transplant Games of America. As team manager for Team Texas, Brian spearheaded the effort to bring the 2014 Transplant Games to Houston. “I promote the Transplant Games and compete in honor of Chad and my donor, a young man whose name I do not know,” said Brian.

Craig Hostert
In 1986, Craig Hostert was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder of the kidneys. After more than two years on dialysis, his wife Kathleen donated a kidney to him. Fourteen years later, his transplanted kidney suddenly stopped working, returning Craig to dialysis. On Dec. 11, 2012, Craig’s life was once again saved by a living donation from a family member, this time by his son Justin. “Our entire family is committed to do whatever we can to celebrate the miracle of transplantation,” said Craig. “We look forward to continuing the Donate Life Run/Walk,” which has grown to be the largest gathering in the country to promote donation.

David Jenkins
In Jan. 2007, a workday just like any other turned life changing when David Jenkins had an on-the-job accident that resulted in the amputation of his right leg and a severe injury to his left. Doctors at Presbyterian St. Luke’s in Denver devised a treatment to use allograft bone (donated from a deceased donor), as well as muscle and skin from his right thigh, to save his left leg. The procedure was successful, and David has since returned to his job and enjoys fishing, hiking, golfing and coaching his son’s baseball team. David knows that the gracious act of his donor made it possible for him to thrive.

Matt Katsarelis
In 1995, Matt Katsarelis, then a 35-year-old husband and father, was diagnosed with hepatitis C. Thirteen years later, his condition had progressed to the point that he needed a liver transplant to survive. Matt received his gift of a donated liver on Easter Sunday of 2010, and he was able to return to work after six weeks. He now owns a small magazine publishing business. “The impact my transplant has had on my life is truly immeasurable,” he said “Daily, I pray strength for the donor family. I am forever grateful to my donor. This gift of life not only saved me, it saved my family.”

Katharine Lawrence
Katharine Lawrence has always been a giver. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Katharine went to Mississippi to provide help to those in need and even hosted a displaced family. She did the same when Sandy struck New Jersey. Despite her active volunteer work, Katharine suffered with back pain. On September 4, 2012, Katharine underwent her third back surgery to fuse her L2 through L5 vertebrae. She also received donor bone to assist in the healing process. “I will always be eternally grateful to my donor whose gift allowed me to continue volunteering and helping others,” said Katharine.

Nefeterius Akeli McPherson
Nefeterius Akeli McPherson was diagnosed with secondary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare bile duct and liver disease, during her first year of law school. Despite her condition, she graduated with honors and passed the Texas bar in 2008. On Nov. 6, 2011, Nefeterius received her life-saving liver transplant from 12-year-old Taitlyn Shae Hughes. “It was so gut-wrenching to discover that a child saved my life,” she recalled. “Thanks to Taitlyn, I have been able to return to the legal field, enjoy traveling and spend time with family and friends. Organ donation sees no race, gender, age, financial status or social class, and that is a beautiful thing.”

Debbie Morgan
In August 1996, Debbie Morgan was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease from alcohol-induced cirrhosis. She joined AA, her liver stabilized, and her doctors didn’t think she would need a transplant. The experience inspired Debbie to join the United Organ Transplant Association (UOTA) to educate the community about organ donation and support people in need of and living with liver transplants. In 2007, a cancerous tumor developed on her liver, accelerating her need of a transplant; she received a donated liver on March 6, 2008. “Every day I am thankful to my donor and his family for giving me a second chance and a brand new life,” she said. She now serves as President of UOTA and is a Regional Lead for OneLegacy’s Donate Life Ambassadors volunteer program.

Richard Perez
After being diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver due to hepatitis C, Richard Perez was placed on the transplant waiting list in 2002. A ten-month wait ensued, during which his condition worsened. “Before you are lucky to receive an organ you are really sick and your quality of life is greatly diminished,” recalled Richard. On July 21, 2003 Richard received his transplant, and he now volunteers at Strong Memorial Hospital to help and support other people as they prepare for their own transplant journey. “It has now been ten years since my transplant and I feel wonderful! Every day I’m so thankful to my donor and their family.”

Sue Herrick Pilon
At age 52, Sue Herrick Pilon was diagnosed with breast cancer, the third generation in her family with the disease. Since her cancer was discovered early, she was eligible for reconstructive surgery using a dermal allograft – human tissue from a donor used to create a base on which breast implants could immediately be inserted. Both surgeries were done the same day. Less than 24 hours after the surgery was completed, Sue was cancer-free. Today the mother of two and manager of a nonprofit agency exercises and travels often. “This is a tremendous gift I’ve been given,” Sue emphasized. “I thank my donor family in my heart every day.”

Sherri Plair
Sherri Plair had suffered from polycystic kidney disease for many years when she was placed on the transplant waiting list at age 29. After a five-year wait, including two on dialysis, her prayers were finally answered with a kidney transplant on Nov. 15, 2009. Since her transplant, Sherri has been living life to the fullest and has watched her daughter grow into a beautiful young woman. Sherri also became a volunteer with Donate Life South Carolina and LifePoint and was recently hired as an employee of the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, a strong supporter of Donate Life. “Life after my transplant is great!” she exclaimed.

Harry Rambo
Harry Rambo was skydiving from 9,000 feet when strong wind conditions resulted in a bad landing, shattering the shaft of his right femur. To rebuild his hip his doctor used cancellous chips from a donor, and after three months on crutches and two years with a cane, Harry, who now works for RTI Surgical, has lived pain-free and returned to skydiving. “I am forever grateful to the donor and their family who helped to restore my life and allow me to return to the things that I love to do,” Harry said. “I love working at RTI because I have the opportunity to help others in the same way that tissue transplantation has helped me.”

Linda Ramos
Linda Ramos spent the last two years of high school in and out of hospitals, constantly sick and fatigued due to Type I juvenile diabetes. After she got married, a high-risk pregnancy caused congestive heart failure, shutting down her kidneys, threatening her with blindness. Linda learned about the very uncommon pancreas-only transplant, and after a two-year wait a donor’s gift saved her life. “I can’t believe the way I feel,” affirmed Linda. “I cheer my daughter on at her events, and started running and have competed in over 55 road races. The 120,000 people on the waiting list deserve the same happy ending.”

Connor Randall
Connor Randall received his first heart before he learned how to walk. Ten years later, his body began to reject the transplanted heart; he received his second heart before he entered the eighth grade. He began to go into rejection again when he was in high school, but experimental treatments and medications returned him to health. Today, he is an active 22-year-old senior at Regis University studying economics and politics. He is honored to share his Rose Parade experience with his family and relates, “We didn’t always have that future to look forward to, but now we do. And it’s a big deal.”

Arthur Joven Reyes
Arthur Joven “AJ” Reyes was a college student when a rare viral infection began to destroy his heart. With only a mechanical heart keeping him alive, at the age of 25 AJ received the new heart he needed. With his new heart working well, AJ is currently following up his B.A. in Healthcare Administration with a second degree. As a Donate Life Ambassador, he encourages other members of the Filipino community to register as donors. AJ also trains for and runs half-marathons – something he never would have thought was possible before his heart transplant. “I am doing it to honor my donor,” said AJ. “I don’t want this gift to have been made in vain.”

Sharon Runner
California State Senator Sharon Runner has spent her life in service to others, from founding a private school to serving in the state legislature. At 30, Sharon was diagnosed with scleroderma; by 2006, she had lost nearly 60 percent of her lung capacity and within five years would need a lung transplant. Thanks to an organ donation from a 36-year-old woman, Sharon returned to work in the Senate. She now serves on the Sierra Donor Services Advisory Board and the Legislative committee for the Scleroderma Foundation. “I am grateful daily to God, family, friends and especially to my donor for the life I now lead.” she stated.

Jerry L. Sexton, Sr.
In 2002, Jerry L. Sexton underwent a routine surgery that revealed his liver had become cirrhotic. After waiting four years on the transplant list, Jerry found his right kidney was failing as well, and soon thereafter had a successful double transplant. Rosie, Jerry’s wife of 56 years, is herself a transplant recipient, with donated corneas in both eyes. To educate others about the need for donation, the Sextons became volunteers at the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization. Now 77, Jerry keeps busy volunteering and working part-time at Staples. “You don’t want to stop and sit down, because then you realize you’re old,” he said.

Madison Shinaberry
For two years, Madison Shinaberry fought to live with pulmonary hypertension, a life-threatening disease of the lungs. Most devastatingly, she was forced to give up dancing ballet, something she had done her entire life. On January 13, 2009, 13-year-old Madison received a life-saving double-lung transplant that gave back to her all that the disease had taken from her young life. Currently, she is studying Politics at Washington and Lee University as a Johnson Scholar. She dances almost every day, and teaches ballet at a local studio. “Working to educate people about organ donation has become a passion of mine,” affirmed Madison. “I am grateful that my transplant has given me these opportunities, along with a healthy life.”

Amy Nicole Tippins
After receiving her liver transplant, Amy Tippins has become a tireless advocate for organ donation. In 2009, Amy – who is also a tissue recipient – left the financial services industry to found RockScar Love Designs, a women’s apparel company. Amy, now 38, volunteers at Camp Independence, a camp for families affected by organ transplantation, and enjoys public speaking. “In life, very few gifts have the power to drive you to serve others…in hopes of somehow coming close to repaying the joy you received,” Amy said. “The gift of organ donation not only ignites this desire in me, but in everyone impacted by this priceless gift.”

Ana Maria
Villalobos
At age 27, Ana Maria Villalobos was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease that causes inflammation of the joints, pain and severe mobility restrictions. Between 2002 and 2011, Ana Maria had both knees and hips replaced. “I was told by my doctor that the bone of tissue donors allowed me to heal better and faster,” said a grateful Villalobos. “If it wasn’t for the people who said yes to tissue donation and my surgeries, I would be in a wheelchair today.” Ana Maria also volunteers for OneLegacy in memory of her son Moises, a nine-year dialysis patient who died within a year of receiving a kidney transplant.

Gregory J. Welsh
Gregory Welsh, a 49-year-old father and engineering drafter, is a remarkable example of the life-saving benefits of organ donation. After a fatal car accident in 1996, Gregory made the decision to donate his wife’s organs. Fifteen years later, his generosity came full circle when on May 18, 2011, four months after suffering a heart attack that made him reliant on an artificial heart, Gregory received a heart transplant. He has since returned to work and is an active hiker and mountain biker. He has also made contact with the family of his donor, Fernando, and happily noted that “we keep in touch and get together often.”

JePahl White
In June 2004, after eight years on dialysis, JePahl received a kidney transplant. Five years later, after his transplanted kidney went into full rejection, his wife LaKishia approached him about becoming his donor. Because she was not a biological match, LaKishia continued to research possibilities and learned about paired exchange programs. On September 27, 2010, JePahl received a kidney from Jessica Jurado, who donated on behalf of her mother, who received a life-saving kidney transplant as part of a chain. LaKishia’s donated kidney was transplanted two days later to a recipient in Pennsylvania. “I have a new family bond with Jessica and enjoy the new ‘sister’ in our family,” JePahl acknowledged.