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Oklahomans honored in Tournament of Roses 2021 event

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter –

This story first appeared online on Dec. 22, 2020.

OKLAHOMA CITY— Two organ donors and one donation healthcare hero will be representing Oklahoma in the 2021 Tournament of Roses TV Special on New Year’s Day. Mariee Mena and Kolby Crum will be honored as organ donors, and Luci Pham will be recognized as a Healthcare Hero.

Each year, LifeShare of Oklahoma helps sponsor the Donate Life Float in the Tournament of Roses Parade to spread the message about organ, eye and tissue donation to a nationwide audience.

The Pasadena, California, association announced in July that it was canceling the 132nd parade because of the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections among its large audience and participants, but viewers will still get a show with a two-hour television special on New Year’s Day.

This year, in lieu of a parade, the Tournament of Roses will have a floral sculpture that honors donors and donation health care professionals.

LifeShare Oklahoma is a nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO) dedicated to the recovery of organs and tissue for transplant purposes.

The 2021 Donate Life Rose Parade floral sculpture themed, “Community of Life” will feature a vibrant floral bee honeycomb, that will reflect the message that we are stronger when we work together as a community.

Twenty-one hexagonal memorial portraits of donors will be interwoven within the bee-style honeycomb, symbolizing the life donors give through organ, eye and tissue donation.

Similar to the families and donors who have given the gift of life, bees represent a harmonious community that helps and benefits others.

Donation healthcare professionals devote every day to make donation and transplantation possible. The names of six health care professionals will be featured within the floral sculpture.

This year’s Donate Life Rose Parade will include a total of 27 participants from around the nation – three of which are Oklahomans.

This January, Oklahoma will be represented by the following individuals:

Kolby Crum, an organ donor, always cared about others. Not really into sports, Kolby wanted to be on a team and joined cross country. He finished in the top 2 percent of athletes in the 2019 season. He worked hard himself, but also ran alongside others to encourage them.

Kolby enjoyed board and card games, particularly “Magic the Gathering,” which he played with friends from around the city.

A silent leader, Kolby was hard working and encouraging and younger students looked up to him. He had plans to attend college on a cross country scholarship in pursuit of a degree in psychology.

When getting his driver’s license, Kolby registered to be an organ donor knowing he could give hope and life to others.

Just months later, Kolby and his cross country teammates were struck by a vehicle driving more than 80 miles per hour in a school zone. Kolby was one of three who lost their lives in the tragic incident.

After all efforts to save Kolby’s life had been attempted, his family wasn’t surprised to learn that he was a registered donor. Since Kolby was 18 and was registered, his parents supported his final wish to give to life to others by donating his organs.

Kolby will be honored on the Rose Parade structure, in one of 21 floragraphs, which is a floral portrait made out of organic materials, such as rice, farina, coffee, flax seeds and cinnamon.

Organ donor Mariee Mena was a star softball player at the University of Oklahoma, the daughter of two proud parents, a loving sister, and a caring cousin. As a member of a sports loving family, Mariee pursued softball.

By the time she entered high school, Mariee had established herself as a star player in softball, volleyball and tennis.

Her performance and awards at Escondido High School earned her a scholarship to play softball at the University of Oklahoma, where she began her first season in 2003.

Because she enjoyed her four years on the OU Softball Team so much, Mariee became a softball coach like her father. She also began tutoring and was soon hired as a teaching assistant.

One evening, two police officers arrived at the Mena residence in California to inform Mariee’s parents that she had been involved in a motorcycle accident. The Mena family quickly traveled to Oklahoma where they would learn that Mariee would not recover from her injuries.

The entire family was allowed to stay with Mariee in the ICU room designed for two visitors. “The nurses were wonderful, they took such good care of her, Marlee’s mother recalls.

Over the next three days, all of Mariee’s friends came to see her, where they would play music, sing for her, and say good-bye – an outpouring of love that was comforting to the Mena family.

Mariee will be honored in one of the 21 floragraphs on the Rose Parade floral structure.

Always fascinated by science, Luci Pham, a Donation Health Care Professional from Oklahoma City, originally aspired to be a marine biologist.  However, her fear of open water would cause her to instead pursue a career in respiratory therapy, where she worked four years at a hospital.

While working, she met a LifeShare staff member who explained the gift of donation, which made a real impression on her work experience.

Luci has worked at LifeShare since November 2016, where she started as an Organ Recovery Coordinator. She is now an Advance Practice Coordinator, taking administrator calls and performing special procedures as needed.

For Luci, working at LifeShare is not only a meaningful career, but also a calling that is much bigger than she could have imagined.

Since working as an Organ Recovery Coordinator at LifeShare, Luci says she has developed an even bigger passion for donation and enjoys the aspect of her work that allows the donor’s families and friends a form of closure that comes from a tragic situation.

She also cares deeply about the recipient families, friends and colleagues who have more time with their loved ones because of the donation.

One memorable moment at work for Luci was when she experienced a tragic situation with a pediatric donor, in which the doctors were able to recover a tiny heart saving another child’s life.

Luci grieved for the donor’s family for the loss of their child. After the recovery, the transplant surgeon was able to send a video of the heart beating in the recipient’s chest.

Luci’s name will be one of six Donation Health Care Professionals displayed on the Donate Life Floral structure.“In a year of uncertainties, the need for lifesaving transplants continues. Transplants would not be possible without our generous donors and their families, who, in the midst of tragedy as they lose a loved one, find the courage to save lives,” Jeffrey Orlowski, President and CEO of LifeShare said.

“These individuals honored in the floral sculpture will not only be representing the importance of donation, but will serve as representatives of Oklahoma and the approximately 600 citizens of the state who are awaiting a lifesaving transplant.”

LifeShare encourages everyone to watch the Rose Parade Special on New Year’s Day.

LifeShare works closely with four transplant centers and 145 healthcare organizations in Oklahoma to facilitate donation. In addition, LifeShare works to raise awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation through public education.

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From left: Kolby Crum and Mariee Mena will be honored as organ donors, and Luci Pham will be recognized as a Healthcare Hero during the 2021 Tournament of Roses TV Special on New Year’s Day. Photos provided.