A Legacy of Life

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Kathleen and Shawn Steinhoff pose near the floral depiction of their late son, an organ donor who was memorialized on this year’s Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. (Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Kathleen and Shawn Steinhoff pose near the floral depiction of their son, Kameron (wearing cap), an organ donor who was memorialized on this year’s Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. (Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Staff Writer

PASADENA—It was just after 2 o’clock on Tuesday, when the announcement blared from the loudspeakers at the Rosemont Pavilion in Pasadena:

“The Donate Life float is finished!”

Amid the cheers and hugs among the volunteers who had helped to build and painstakingly decorate the float, Bruce Endo stared calmly at the floor for a moment, then gave a soft sigh as he looked skyward.

Donate Life’s float entry in the 125th Rose Parade on New Year’s Day was titled “Light Up the World,” and featured memorial floragraphs – floral portraits – of 81 people whose donation of organs or tissues have helped save the lives of others.

“A donor’s legacy is that their presence in the world never ends,” Endo, 62, said later. “Organ, tissue, and eye donation isn’t about death, but about giving and life.”

Bruce Endo displays a button bearing a photo of his son, Andrew, who was also pictured on the float. The baby died as a result of SIDS in 1981.

Bruce Endo displays a button bearing a photo of his son, Andrew, who was also pictured on the Donate Life float. The baby died as a result of SIDS in 1981.

In April 1981, Endo and his wife, Pamela, received an urgent call from a hospital near their San Fernando Valley home, telling them their three-month-old son had been rushed there.

“He was laid down for a nap by the sitter,” explained Pamela Endo, who had returned to work just a couple of days earlier. She had endured a very difficult pregnancy, and after being born prematurely, Andy had grown strong and happy.

She went in to check on him to see why he wasn’t crying and she turned him over and realized he wasn’t breathing,” she said. “We were notified at work and rushed over to find that he was on life support.”

The Endos were told their son was a victim of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). As they dealt with the shock, they learned of ongoing SIDS research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and the need for tissue donations.

“This happened so long ago that organ and tissue donation wasn’t as popular or well-known as it is now. Many of the programs hadn’t started yet,” Bruce Endo explained. “We were both signed up to be donors with the pink dots on our driver’s licenses, because we were young at the time.”

He said the decision to let their son’s tissues to be used in the research was not as heart-wrenching as some might think.

“It’s just something within you. In the midst of your shock and grief, you try to make wise decisions.”

Herself a recipient of a donated kidney and pancreas, Pamela Endo said the grief brought on by the death of their son was somewhat tempered by the opportunity to help others.

“We thought if we could spare another family from this horrible situation, if our child could somehow help to find a cure for this, it would be something we could do that was positive.”

Another face adorning the float in this year’s parade was that of Kameron Shigeo Lanaki Steinhoff. The 21-year-old athlete from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, was truly in the prime of life when he fell while skateboarding in 2011. His head struck the pavement and he suffered a catastrophic brain injury.

“He was such a good athlete, so good at everything,” said his mother, Kathleen, in her island-inflected parlance. “He was such a good person, he loved his family and everyone around him.”

Kathleen and Shawn Steinhoff, Kameron’s parents, were at the Rosemont Pavilion on Tuesday, smiling, taking photos of the float, and doing their best to keep their emotions in check.

“I can’t really put it into words. Maybe we’re still in shock, but we have tried to make the best decisions we can in the situation,” said Shawn Steinhoff.

A junior majoring in psychology at Hawaii Pacific University, Kameron was a star on the basketball court, having been named Hawaii’s player of the year after his senior season in high school. His mother explained that he had lost his driver’s license before turning 21 a few weeks earlier.

“We looked at his license after his accident and saw that he had signed up to be an organ donor,” she said. “I guess he figured that could be a way to help others.”

The Steinhoff and Endo families regularly speak at forums to educate and promote organ and tissue donation, and work to spread awareness of the importance of being signed up on donation registries. The Endos have been volunteering to decorate the Donate Life float for nine years, and they are local ambassadors with OneLegacy, the non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives through organ and tissue donation in the seven-county greater Los Angeles area.

Bruce Endo said after all the years that have passed, the invitation to have Andy’s picture included in the floragraphs caught his family by surprise.

“Maybe the message here is that even beyond unspeakable tragedy, life goes on, and it can go on for others, with your help,” he said.

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