“It was only three or four sentences long, but it took me days to write,” she said last week, decorating the “Life Transformed” float with other members of the Ventura/San Fernando Valley chapter of TRIO – Transplant Recipient International Organization. “I told his family I was so sorry for their loss, and that I didn’t know how to ever thank them for this gift of life. I said I’d pray for my donor every day of my life and hoped someday to meet them.” Because rules require anonymity between organ donors and recipients, the letter was sent to the organ procurement agency in Amarillo, which was supposed to forward it to the donor’s family. “I never heard anything back, so the next year I wrote them another letter on the anniversary of the transplant, but again heard nothing back,” Jackie said. It was the same in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Nothing. Finally, in August 2001, a friend who was traveling to Amarillo on business hand-carried Jackie’s letter to the procurement center there. “A few weeks later I got a call from UCLA saying a letter had arrived for me. It was from Wade’s mother, Rita, saying she’d been wondering why she hadn’t heard from her son’s transplant recipient.” No one knows what happened to those earlier letters, but it didn’t matter now. Wade’s family wanted to meet her. She couldn’t wait. Jackie wrote a letter, then drove down to UCLA to deliver it. It was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. She still doesn’t know if Rita ever got that letter in all the chaos that ensued, but she never heard back from her. “The following January I was watching the CBS ‘Morning Show,’ and they were talking about a week of wishes coming up in the spring. I e-mailed them that I didn’t want anything for myself, but I did want to meet my donor’s family to hug and thank them in person.” A few months later, Jackie got a letter from CBS, saying they couldn’t find her donor family, but wanted her to come to Manhattan anyway for a show they were doing on organ donations. Jackie planned to use the opportunity to talk to a national audience about the 90,000 Americans awaiting an organ transplant – one-third of whom die before receiving a donation. The show was actually a setup. CBS had located Wade’s family and wanted to surprise Jackie on air. “They showed a video of Wade and his family, and after it was over, Rita, Kel and Wade’s brother, Terry, walked out,” Jackie recalled. “We were all crying and hugging.” Later, as they were walking along a Manhattan street on their way to dinner, Kel told Jackie something she will never forget. “I feel like I finally met my dad as a young man,” he said. And he was proud – very proud, Kel told her. In death, his dad had given people he didn’t even know the greatest gift of all. Life. Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] While you’re watching the Rose Parade on Monday morning, keep an eye out for entry No. 45 – the float titled “Life Transformed.” There may be bigger, more elaborate floats, but none decorated with more love. Among those riding on the float, waving to the millions of paradegoers and TV spectators, will be Jackie Colleran, a 65-year-old retired school nurse from Thousand Oaks. She’ll be holding a rose and an 8-by-10 picture of Wade Schoenhals of Amarillo, Texas, who gave her a second chance at life nine years ago when he was killed in a motorcycle crash at age 37. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECoach Doc Rivers a “fan” from way back of Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson Before he died, Wade had arranged to donate his healthy organs to help keep other people alive. Jackie, who was lying in a coma at UCLA Medical Center only 24 hours from death, received his liver. Wade’s family will be watching the Rose Parade on TV from their hometown of Fritch, Texas. His mom, Rita, a retired school bus driver, and son, 19-year-old Kel, promised to yell loud enough for Jackie to hear them all the way in Pasadena when the float with Wade’s picture on it goes by. It took a while for these two families to meet. But when they finally did a few years ago, it illustrated what is so right and true about organ donations. A woman who was about to die got a second chance at life. And a boy who was only 10 when he lost his father learned more about his dad in death than he ever knew about him in life. Jackie finished the first thank-you letter on Christmas Eve 1996, only a few days before leaving the hospital after her successful liver transplant. INFORMATION For information on the local chapter of TRIO, and One Legacy, the Southern California Organ Procurement Organization, call TRIO president Ron Taubman at (818) 701-2977 or e-mail www.trioventurala.org. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!