December 10, 2011 in City

Rose Parade has gift reminder

Donate Life float to include visage of organ donor Drew Swank
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photoBuy this photo

Monty Montoya places a “floragraph” image of Drew Swank on an easel while Swank’s father, Don, center, sister Tara and mother Patti, right, look on Friday at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. Surrounding them are classmates of Drew.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

The memory of Drew Swank will be celebrated in the New Year amid a whirl of flowers and tears.

His death in the aftermath of a 2009 high school football game may have robbed his family of his companionship and promise, yet good has come from the tragedy. Surgeons were able to collect organs from Drew’s body and successfully transplant them into people desperate to live.

These gifts will be honored in the 2012 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 2.

Artists have created what they call a “floragraph,” an organic portrait of the 17-year-old made of leaves and seeds, coffee grounds and flowers. It will be displayed alongside 71 other portraits as the centerpiece of the Donate Life float that will be constructed of thousands of roses and other flowers.

Drew’s former classmates, friends, family and medical providers at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center had lunch and shared memories on Friday.

Tara Swank, Drew’s sister, said her little brother would have been taking his college finals this week as a freshman majoring in engineering.

“He liked to build things,” she said. “We still find these little contraptions that he made. They remind us.”

Said his sister, “I miss him very much.”

The bittersweet reminders are of a life lost too early. Of a boy who played hard on the football field for his teammates, and exhibited a tender side in the classroom, giving a rose to all of the girls in his class at Valley Christian so no one would be left out on Valentine’s Day.

When he died in October 2009 of a head injury, his family agreed to donate his organs, including his heart, liver, pancreas, both lungs and kidneys and his eyes.

“His was an unusual gift, a healthy, full organ donor,” said Todd Seiger, the financial manager of Sacred Heart’s transplant program.

The hospital performs about 12 heart transplants each year and about 60 kidney replacements. It is seeking approval from state health officials to perform pancreas transplants.

Tara Swank said Drew may be especially happy that his eyes now enable someone else to read – one of his favorite pastimes. He was a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, including “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

The experience has helped Tara empathize with patients she helps in her own life. She is a critical care nurse at the University of Michigan Health System working with transplant patients.

“This was not the end of Drew’s legacy,” she said. “It was the start of Drew’s legacy.”

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