DETROIT (AP) — Even though an asthma attack ended her life at age 28, Kristen Michelle Joe is still credited with saving at least four others — as an organ donor.
On New Year's Day, the Detroit woman and 71 other donors across the country will be memorialized in "floragraphs" — floral arrangements incorporating their portraits — on a float in their honor at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
Joe had once mentioned to her parents about a desire to register as an organ donor. Her mother, Annette Joe, a doctor, isn't sure if her daughter ever followed through with it. But after she died in February, the decision seemed easy.
"When we were in the hospital and they approached us and asked if we were willing to donate her organs, I knew that was what she wanted, so we didn't hesitate," Annette Joe said.
Family and friends of Kristen Michelle Joe, a University of Michigan grad and community affairs coordinator with the Detroit Tigers, created the floral display earlier this month. It will be added, along with this year's other honored organ donors, to a flower-covered Donate Life Rose Parade Float.
While she had battled asthma all her life, her mother said that even in death her organs remained functional.
"I know that her heart is still beating," Dr. Joe said. "Her kidney, her liver, they're still functioning and made it possible for multiple other people to continue to live. They were able to use her skin and tendons and lot of other tissues ... her cornea to benefit other people. We don't feel like it was a sacrifice. It really was just helpful for us."
About 2.8 million Michigan residents are organ donors. Last year, 792 organs were transplanted in the state, with at least 733 more this year, according to Gift of Life Michigan Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program.
But more than 3,000 Michigan residents are awaiting organ transplants, said Remonia Chapman, program director for the Detroit area. More than 2,500 are waiting for kidney transplants while another 333 are seeking livers.
"We knew as a family that was our desire," Annette Joe said of organ transplants. "But we didn't know firsthand about the process until we experienced it. Some people think that doctors wouldn't try to save you because they would be trying to get your organs. We found that to be the exact opposite."
In 2010, a "floragraph" of Detroit teenager Brandon Spight was featured on the Donate Life float. Spight died in 2007 from a rare brain defect. His lungs, kidneys, liver, intestine and heart valves were donated and helped save five other lives.
To sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, visit giftoflifemichigan.org, call 1 (800) 482-4881 or visit any Secretary of State branch office.