Rose Parade gives UNC kidney transplant patient chance to honor her donor, her son

For more than 20 years Delores Evans of Durham, N.C. battled diabetes, high blood pressure and, finally, kidney failure. By 2008 she needed a new kidney to stay alive, but she never could have imagined the circumstances that brought it about.

One day in November, 2008, Delores received a call from UNC Hospitals. Her adult son, Ryan Evans, was in critical condition and was not expected to live. When he died the next day, he also gave life, as an organ donor. Delores received his kidney.

On January 1, 2010, Delores honors her son, and helps promote organ sharing, as a participant in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., riding on the Donate Life float sponsored by OneLegacy, the Los Angeles-area organ and tissue donor services organization.

Delores was chosen for the parade among hundreds of people from across the country who wrote letters, describing how organ transplantation changed their lives, to the pharmaceutical company Astellas. In the letter, Delores described how difficult it was to keep working as an attorney while on dialysis and the toll both took on her body, including congestive heart failure.

“I vowed that if I were fortunate enough to receive a kidney transplant that I would become an avid volunteer working to increase organ, tissue and bone donations and be an advocate for people receiving dialysis,” Delores wrote. “Until you have a personal or visual experience with people who are on dialysis, it is difficult to comprehend the issues.”

Colleen Frazier, Delores’s transplant coordinator in the UNC Comprehensive Transplant Center, remembers how difficult and relieved the moment was for Delores and her care team, including Robert Watson, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, who performed the transplant.

“We were so happy for Delores that she got a transplant, but we were all very sadden that she lost her son,” Colleen says. Of the more than 100,000 people in the United States on a transplant list (one is added every 11 minutes), 80 percent of them need a kidney. “Like so many people she waited a long time, and this was the right kidney to the right person.”

“I believe there are certain obligations, certain standards that also go along with having this privilege (of receiving an organ transplant),” Delores says, “and I’m going to make sure that people know as a recipient what it means to have a second chance at life.”