Categories: News

December 27, 2023

City of San Fernando Mayor and Living Kidney Donor Celeste Rodriguez in Rose Parade

On New Year’s Day, City of San Fernando Mayor Celeste Rodriguez will be in the 2024 Tournament of Roses Parade, walking alongside the OneLegacy float – titled “Woven Together: The Dance of Life” – to bring awareness to the importance of organ donation. Rodriguez became a living kidney donor for her brother 10 years ago.

She was invited to be a float walker after connecting with OneLegacy about celebrating national “Donate Life Month” in the city of San Fernando last April. She told them about her family’s journey.

Rodriguez was 24 years old when she made the momentous choice to donate one of her kidneys to help save the life of her oldest brother, Ruben Rodriguez Jr., who had been on dialysis for over five years.

“My brother needed a transplant and there are only so many years you can survive on dialysis,” she told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol. While survival rates do vary, the average life expectancy for patients on dialysis can be five to 10 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

In preparation for donating her kidney, Rodriguez said she learned about all aspects of the donation process. Unfortunately, she also encountered well-meaning naysayers expressing concerns and misconceptions about living kidney donation, including questions about her ability to eventually have children or lead a full, productive life.

“I had my baby girl four years ago with zero complications and have been able to serve my community – now as mayor,” said Rodriguez, who has a second child with her husband Robert. Rodriguez said she’s grateful for her blessings and feels “lucky” that she and her brother were a donor match and that “he has a strong little kidney helping him.”

“I’m 5’2” and he is 6’2” so we joke about how small [my kidney] must be,” she explained. “Science and medicine [have] created a great opportunity to be able to help others.”

Supporting Organ Donation

OneLegacy – a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organ procurement organization (OPO) that supports organ, eye and tissue donations in Southern California – has participated in the annual Tournament of Roses Parade for 20 years. Their goal is to help inspire parade viewers worldwide to consider becoming organ donors, said OneLegacy media representative Tania Llavaneras.

The OneLegacy float will honor 56 individuals, with 34 depicted as memorial “floragraphs” (floral portraits) in recognition of deceased donors. In addition, 18 transplant recipients will be riding on the float and four living donors – including Rodriguez – will be “float walkers” for the 5.5-mile length of the parade route on New Year’s Day.

The float design will showcase the artistry and traditions of the Hopi nation, including a depiction of a “butterfly dancer,” who dances to celebrate the corn harvest and ask for good health and long life for all living things. It will also include butterflies to symbolize rebirth – “from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly,” a metaphorical nod to renewed life through organ donation, explained Llavaneras.

Celebrating Family Milestones

Rodriguez – who will have family members watching from home and in the stands during the parade – said OneLegacy motivated her to share her personal story to help raise awareness about the powerful impact of organ donation.

“I have been very private about being a living donor, but OneLegacy has encouraged me to share my story, to encourage others to learn about donation,” said Rodriguez, emphasizing the importance of education about organ donation, which she deems an opportunity to “give life.”

“My brother and I recognize how significant it is that he’s here with us, alive [and] celebrating life’s milestones,” said Rodriguez. One of those recent landmark occasions was walking one of his daughters down the aisle at her wedding in October – shortly after celebrating the 10th anniversary of his successful kidney transplant.

“We make the most of moments, especially during the holidays when we make my grandmother’s tamales,” said Rodriguez. “Now we’re looking forward to [Ruben] one day celebrating other milestones – like [someday] meeting his future grandbabies.”

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