Amanda Missildine will be one of 32 riders on the Donate Life float during the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. The Tempe Catholic had a liver transplant as a teenager. (courtesy photo)
Amanda Missildine will be one of 32 riders on the Donate Life float during the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade. The Tempe Catholic had a liver transplant as a teenager. Her husband will be watching from the stands. (courtesy photo)

Amanda Missildine, a newlywed Catholic, will be making another heartfelt journey Jan. 1 — this time with her husband watching from the stands.

The 26-year-old parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe, will be one of two Arizonans — 32 riders from 17 states and Canada — on the “Journeys of the Heart”-themed Donate Life float during the Jan. 1 Rose Parade in California. Missildine’s appearance will be as an organ recipient.

The riders are as young as 12 and can also be donor family members or living donors. Donate Life’s looping, heart-laden float design evokes the emotional journeys undertaken by all people affected by donation and transplantation.

“Our float participants have experienced the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and all points between on their roads from heartbreak to hope,” Bryan Stewart, chairman of the Donate Life float committee said in a press release.

Stewart is also vice president of communications at OneLegacy, a nonprofit organ and tissue organization serving the greater Los Angeles area. It was Missildine’s involvement with Donor Network of Arizona, which coordinates organ donation plus tissue and eye recovery in the Grand Canyon state that led to her spot on the Donate Life float.

Missildine has helped with organ donation events before. This time, her volunteer efforts helped decorate the Donate Life float. It will depict a magical, heart-filled world with a 200-foot-long looping pathway. Lining the journey will be 72 memorial “floragraph” portraits of deceased donors including a 17-year-old Chandler teenager and aspiring doctor who was hit by a car in August 2011. (view full map showing home states)

Missidline said helping with donor events is always a special time.

“It’s just a multitude of emotions. The sacrifice that they make [as donors] — they’re heroes,” Missildine told The Catholic Sun a week before heading to Pasadena, Calif. for the parade.

She said organ and tissue donation is a way to commemorate loved ones in a different way. She expected emotions to get the best of her at some point.

“A float with flowers, no woman could resist, I tell you,” Missildine said.

Medical miracle

She also couldn’t pass up the chance to promote organ donation in a bigger way. A liver transplant on Mother’s Day in 2005 saved her life. So did the partnership of prayer, she said.

“Without faith, logically, I’m not supposed to be alive,” Missildine said.

It was springtime of her senior year that breathing problems, other serious symptoms and frequent doctor visits put her in the hospital. She could barely get from the waiting room to the exam room at the time. Her jaundiced skin and eyes indicated liver failure.

Missildine woke up a month later in a different hospital, not able to move or talk. She didn’t even think to question things like “Why can’t I move?” She could eventually mouth words and about three weeks later asked what happened.

“The doctors will tell you it’s definitely a miracle, the amount of things that happened,” Missildine said.

As suspected she did go into liver failure, but that wasn’t all. Her lungs collapsed twice. She had a couple of brain bleeds and she went into multiple organ failure at one point. Doctors told her parents to start making final preparations for their 17-year-old.

A little over a week later she received a liver transplant. Turns out Wilson’s disease, a genetically recessive condition that prevents the liver form excreting copper from the body, caused her liver failure. The transplant completely cured her.

Full recovery took about two-and-a-half years, but even that was “record, miraculous timing.” She woke up from her transplant around May 27, 2005 and was out of intensive care by mid-June. She went home July 2. Doctors had predicted a nine-month window based on what happened to her.

She sliced her in-patient rehab stay by one-third and entered college on schedule that fall.

Spirited living

“I’m living a very free life. The Lord is good beyond all measure,” Missildine said.

She always had confidence the Lord would bring her through and was at peace every step of the way. She was at peace if it was her time to go too.

“I felt a premonition about a year earlier that I was going to go,” Missildine confessed. She even wrote a farewell letter to her family. “I was totally at peace with it.”

Missildine’s faith was strong growing up — something her parents nurtured. She credits the faith and prayers of her parents for her transplant and healing. They especially asked for the intercession of the Blessed Mother and Pope John Paul II, who had died weeks earlier.

“Their faith is rock solid. They just gave it up to God — whatever He wanted,” Missildine said.

Several prayer chains across the country helped too. A parishioner even took prayers to Italy, the birthplace of Padre Pio, asking for his intercession.

Missildine said she even felt angels watching over her in the hospital. One was on top of a monitor by her bed, not sitting like a human does. The other was nearby.

She’ll never get to know anything about her earthly angel, the organ donor who saved her, though some people do. The man who received the heart of a Bourgade Catholic High School student several years ago is friends with his mother. That recipient rode in the Donate Life float in 2010 with a floragaph of his donor nearby.

Missildine can, however, be of help to outpatients experiencing liver problems. The young woman is now a nurse. She intended to become an English teacher, but saw God had other plans. For a bit, Missildine even worked in the same unit where she was once a patient.

“It really comforts them. They see I’m healthy and living my life. It gives them a lot of hope,” Missildine said of her patients.

There are more than 116,000 people nationwide waiting for an organ transplant. Some 2,300 of them are in Arizona. Learn more about organ and tissue donation and some religious perspectives behind it.

‘Journeys of the Heart’

The 120 official sponsors of the Donate Life float hopes to shorten that waiting list by increasing awareness of the impact of organ donation. The float’s collection of joyful hearts represent the new life organ transplants bring and is grounded by a reverent dedication garden, according to press material. It’s filled with roses bearing personal messages honoring donors. A large purple and red heart overlap to symbolize love and courage.

Missildine will ride alongside other organ donation advocates such as 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein, whose advocacy for donation is inspired by kidney disease and multiple transplants within his immediate family. His brother Rick Eckstein, a hitting coach for the Washington Nationals donated a kidney to his brother Ken.

Carolyn Henry Glaspy, who donated the organs of her son Chris Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals and heart recipient Larry Johnson, a Grammy-award-winning bassist are among other notable riders. Leilah Dowsari, who in 1986 was the first female newborn to receive a heart transplant, will also be on the float.

This marks the 10th year that Donate Life has entered a float in the Rose Parade. The parade will be carried live on television at 8 a.m. Pacific Time on ABC, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, KTLA (Tribune), NBC, RFD-TV and Univision. The parade is also seen in more than 220 international territories and countries.

If interested in learning more about organ donation in Arizona, visit DonateLifeAZ.org or call 1-800-94-DONOR.

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