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Cornea Donor Ernie Eichhorn Jr. honored on 2017 Donate Life Rose Parade Float


Sponsored by SightLife, the donor family met the cornea recipient and attended parade festivities.

Cornea recipient, Gail Ray shares the floragraph of Ernie Eichhorn Jr. with his father, Ernie Sr. and step-mother, Karen.

Ernie Eichhorn, Jr. of Lacey, Washington was only 34 when he died in a car accident on the job. His father, Ernie Sr., and family, have since found some solace in the fact that he was able to donate his corneas, restoring sight to two women in North Carolina.

On January 2nd at the 128th Rose Parade, the Eichhorn family joined SightLife in honoring this gift of sight with a “floragraph” of Ernie Jr.  This portrait was created from flowers and other organic materials and was added to the 2017 Donate Life Rose Parade Float in Pasadena, CA.  Sponsored by SightLife, Ernie Jr. and his family represented cornea donors and families across the country whose gifts have restored sight to others in need, transforming thousands of lives. Corneal surgeon Dr. Keith Walter, who performed the two transplants made possible by Ernie Jr.’s gift, also attended the Donate Life Rose Parade Float festivities.

The floragraph of Ernie Jr. was created by artists and then completed by his family, friends and cornea recipient, Gail Ray. Ernie Sr. traveled across the country to watch Ray put the final touches on the floragraph after a special—and very emotional—meeting facilitated by SightLife, in November, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The 2017 Donate Life Rose Parade Float featuring Ernie Eichhorn, Jr.'s floragraph.“I’ve thought a lot about my donors and the fact that people had to die to restore my sight. I’m so grateful for the gift that I’ve received,” said Ray, who suffered from Fuchs’ Dystrophy, a degenerative disease of the cornea, and has now has had two sight-restoring corneal transplants. “From knowing I was going to be blind to having normal vision is amazing. This has changed my life.” 

For Ray, the donated corneas were a miracle. When she first met Ernie Sr. she stated, “There is no greater gift, I thank you from the bottom of my heart”.  Ernie Sr. shared a photo album that documented his son’s life to show Ray how he lived life to the fullest.  He was a landscape designer with a brilliantly creative mind, his father recounted. He was a big Seattle Seahawks fan and loved the outdoors, scuba diving and hiking.

The Rose Parade is an annual event in which Donate Life America sponsors a float. This special time gives those in the organ, eye and tissue donation and transplantation community an opportunity to come together. The float honors those who have given life-enhancing and life-saving gifts to others and inspires millions of viewers to support their fellow Americans by registering as a donor.