Fort Worth

Fort Worth organ donor honored in Rose Parade

Steve and Kelly Johnston and their children, Cash and Graci, recently put the finishing touches on the floragraph portrait of Dakota Johnston. Dakota, who died in 2008, is one of 72 organ donors whose portraits will be featured on the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day.
Steve and Kelly Johnston and their children, Cash and Graci, recently put the finishing touches on the floragraph portrait of Dakota Johnston. Dakota, who died in 2008, is one of 72 organ donors whose portraits will be featured on the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Handout photo

Returning from a day of fishing with his dad and friends in May 2008, Dakota Johnston suddenly collapsed and lost consciousness in the driveway of his home.

At the hospital, Steve and Kelly Johnston learned that their 8-year-old son was hemorrhaging because of an undiagnosed congenital malformation of the arteries and veins in the center of his brain. The Fort Worth second-grader would never wake up.

Though he died, Dakota’s parents took some comfort in knowing their son’s donated organs helped save five other lives, including a very sick boy in Houston who needed a liver transplant.

“He loved helping people. It was not a hard decision for us to make,” Kelly Johnston said. “We knew that is what he would want to do.”

On New Year’s Day, the Johnstons will be one of dozens of families from across the country to see their loved ones honored with a specially designed float in the 126th Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. The Donate Life float will feature floragraph portraits of 72 donors created from seeds, petals and other plant materials as well as 60 colorful butterflies, which represents the number of lives that can be transformed by a single donor.

The float is one way the nonprofit group Donate Life America spreads the message about the importance of signing up on the national tissue and organ donation registry.

“Across the country, there are about 123,000 men, women and children who are waiting for life-saving organ donations. That doesn’t count the people who need life-saving tissue donations,” Donate Life spokeswoman Laura Davis said. “The need is great.”

Organ donations save about 75 people each day, Davis said. About 13,000 people in Texas and 2,000 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are on transplant waiting lists, she said.

Those who want to donate their eyes, tissues and organs upon death can sign up on the Donate Life registry online or at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles or Texas Department of Public Safety.

“We make it really easy for you. You don’t have to register more than once,” Davis said. “If someone is on the registry, it takes the burden off the family to make that decision. You may end up saving a life or multiple lives one day.”

Dakota’s floragraph for the float was a gift to the Johnstons from Dignity Memorial and Bluebonnet Hills Funeral Home in Colleyville. Dignity Memorial is also sponsoring the family’s trip to California to attend the parade.

Recently, the Johnstons and their 5-year-old twins, Graci and Cash, helped place the finishing touches on the floragraph. Watching the twins, who were born 14 months after Dakota’s death, participate in creating the portrait of their big brother was a special moment, Kelly Johnston said.

“He was our only child. When Dakota was here and we would do our bedtime prayers, he would pray for a brother and sister,” Kelly Johnston said. “He loved being around little kids.”

Donate Life Texas, www.donatelifetexas.org

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639

Twitter: @susanschrock

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