Shelly Campbell claims she can't even draw a stick man, so making a life-like portrait of her son, Brian — his distinct strawberry-blond hair and pale skin — was quite the task for her and her family.
While the picture didn't turn out perfect, it really came alive when Brian's eyes were colored with crystal-blue hydrangeas.
"It kind of brought me to my knees when we got to the eyes," said Shelly, whose son died nearly 13 years ago, at 17 years old, from a brain hemorrhage. "His eyes were always so special; when he had the brain injury they always checked the eyes to see if there was a response. It really caught me off guard how emotional it was."
Memorial floral portraits, or floragraphs, of Brian, who attended Corona del Mar High School, and Fountain Valley High School graduate Deanna Mauer will be among pictures placed on the Donate Life Rose Parade float, which will honor organ donors when it travels down Pasadena's Colorado Boulevard on New Year's Day.
"It's indescribable the way I feel about [Deanna] being honored so much," said Dawn Mauer, who decorated the floragraph with her husband, Howard, on Dec. 8. "I can't believe this is really happening. It's truly amazing."
"Journeys of the Heart" is the theme for this year's Donate Life float, which dramatizes the ups and downs experienced by donor families, transplant recipients and living donors.
"For many of their families, this is a unique opportunity to see their loved one shine before millions of people worldwide and to gain special recognition for their gifts of life and hope," Donate Life float committee chairman and OneLegacy Vice President of Communications Bryan Stewart stated in a press release. OneLegacy is a nonprofit organ and tissue recovery organization.
Deanna, a former standout softball pitcher at Fountain Valley High and San Jose State, was 23 when she died from injuries she suffered when her stopped car was struck by a distracted driver on April 27, 2011, according to a press release from Donate Life. Her liver and kidneys were donated for transplant and her pancreas for research.
Brian's heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas were donated and helped save the lives of six people.
Both Dawn and Shelly learned their children were organ donors a short time before their deaths.
It came up in a conversation when Deanna asked her dad if he was an organ donor, which he is.
"She said, 'So am I,' and she showed us the pink thing on her license and said, 'They can take anything they want, I don't care,'" Dawn said. "I never knew she had done that until that moment."
Brian told his mom he wanted to be a donor about six months before he died, after the family had gone to a Donate Life Walk/Run.
"You never think you're going to outlive your children so I kind of blew it off, but six months later I knew exactly what he wanted and that helped," Shelly said. "It did help during that painful process to know he was helping other people, which was very much his nature."
There were large community outpourings after Deanna and Brian died. More than 100 of Brian's friends brought sleeping bags, food and crowded the hospital chapel praying for a miracle for three days before tests showed he was brain dead.
More than 100 friends, family and former teammates attended a candlelight vigil on the Fountain Valley High's softball field in memory of Deanna. This past May, Central Arizona College retired her number and held the first annual Deanna Mauer Classic softball tournament.
"I can't even describe how she was so special," Dawn said. "I didn't even appreciate her as much as I should have, I guess. All these people who appreciated her so much came out after and I thought 'Wow, I didn't realize people felt so strongly about her.' I always knew she was special — she was my special girl — but she was just a great person."
Dawn retired from a 47-year career at Boeing. She still works part time to keep busy and keep her thoughts from wandering. She's welcomed all the activities that have come with her involvement with Donate Life project.
"My daughter just keeps on going and she keeps on popping up with all these things they're doing for her," she said. "I am so thankful and honored that she's being remembered."