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It was the day before her high school graduation. 18-year-old Mariah West was driving to Springfield from Rogers, Arkansas for a Cardinals baseball game when she took her bright, hazel green eyes off the road to read a text message about directions to the ball game. Her car flipped off a bridge, and she sustained major head injuries. Eight days later, she suffered a massive stroke and died.
Her family was abruptly faced with many decisions, one of which was whether to donate her organs. Mariah’s mother, Merry Dye, said the family took its cue from how Mariah had lived her life.
“Mariah was always a very giving person by nature. In fact, on her social media website, she had put that she loved to help people, and if there was anything within her power, she would do it. ‘Don’t hesitate to ask,’” Dye said.
And so, the family donated Mariah's eyes, organs, and tissues. Her eyes both went to recipients. One cornea went to an elderly woman who had been homebound for years, unable to drive because of a disease that had taken her sight. Mariah’s cornea allowed that woman to drive again, and have a completely different quality of life.
Annie Kuhl is a spokeswoman for Heartland Lions Eye Banks, which facilitates the donation of corneal transplant tissue to about eight people a day in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.
“One of the main reasons we chose to honor Mariah, of course, was for her sight and life-saving gifts—but also because her story was very close to a member of our team whose life was lost in the tornado in Joplin this past Spring. Her name was Darian. She was our branch manager in Joplin. And she had actually met Mariah’s mother, Merry, at an event where Merry talked about Mariah’s donation,” Kuhl said.
Darian Vanderhoofven, the eye bank colleague who died in the Joplin tornado, will be honored with a rose on the float. Kuhl said the float itself will feature 72 floragraph portraits of deceased organ donors. Those are portraits made out of flowers, she said. Mariah’s portrait will be one of them.
“The design is actually a clock tower. The theme of the float is ‘Just Imagine One More Day,’” said Kuhl.
Mariah West would have been 21 this week.
Like other states, Missouri has an organ and tissue donor registry: www.donatelifemissouri.com. The Rose Parade is January 2 in Pasadena.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.