By Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ewer, Minnesota National GuardJanuary 5, 2010
1st Lt. Eric Van Hecke and his wife, Jennifer of Monticello, Minn., put the final touches on a floragraph, Dec. 23, of their son, Jack, who was a tissue donor in 2006. The floragraph, a memorial portrait made of floral materials, was part of the Donate Life float in the internationally-televised Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on New Year's Day.
Van Hecke, a physician's assistant with the 204th Area Support Medical Company, returned to the U.S. on leave from a tour of duty in Balad, Iraq, to take part in this special recognition of his son's gift of life.
At only 15 months of age, Jack Van Hecke was killed in a tragic accident. Upon his death, Jack's heart valves were donated and saved the life of a little girl in Minnesota. In honor of Jack's gift of tissue donation, LifeSource is honoring the Van Hecke family as part of the largest public celebration of the gifts of organ and tissue donation - the Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Reflecting on the thought of tissue donation, Van Hecke said, "What keeps me going is the thought that part of him is out there somewhere and a part of him is affecting another life. What's so fitting is that Jack donated his heart valves ... he was able to help another child. When he or she is at school and runs their first mile ... or runs the court at basketball it's going to be his heart that's going to help them do that. To me that's the best part of this. It's truly remarkable."
"Initially I didn't want anything more to happen to Jack," said Jennifer Van Hecke. "I didn't want him to go through another surgery and literally in the next second I thought of that other mom ... that wants "Jack" back. At that moment, yes, of course, he will be a heart valve donor."
The float, themed New Life Rises, features a phoenix, the mythical symbol of life coming out of death, rising into the sky and represents those who give life in their passing and the people whose lives are renewed by their gifts.
"From a bed of nurturing flames," illustrates the LifeSource Web site, "the majestic phoenix rises anew, its tail feathers adorned with 76 floragraphs depicting loved ones who gave life to those in need. The bird soars high above 24 float riders - all transplant recipients, living donors, and family members of deceased donors - seated along a monument inspired by the National Donor Memorial's Wall of Names.
A garden inspired by the memorial's Wall of Tears leads the float with 2,000 dedicated roses, each carrying a personal message of love, gratitude and hope to a donor, recipient or candidate for transplant."
LifeSource, Jennifer Van Hecke's employer and sponsor of Jack Van Hecke's floragraph, is the non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation in the Upper Midwest, serving communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and portions of western Wisconsin.
According to LifeSource, more than 100,000 men, women and children in the United States are currently waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Thousands of individuals are in need of a tissue transplant. The numbers continue to grow each year; every day more than 100 people are added to the national transplant waiting list and 18 people die while waiting for needed organs and tissues.