Donor Family Stories

Chris Persinger

Five years ago, 17-year-old Chris Persinger left behind a special gift after he died in a car accident. He donated his tissues and eyes, which helped 64 people improve their lives.

Chris’ last tissue gift was given to his sister Caitlyn. The now 18-year-old Mukwonago resident and UW-La Crosse student received her brother’s one last remaining tissue to repair ligaments in her knee, torn during a soccer game.

On New Year’s Day, it’s Caitlyn’s turn to give Chris a gift. She will honor him by riding the Donate Life Rose Parade Float in Pasadena, Calif., to commemorate tissue and organ donors and those who benefited from the gift of life.

“I’m grateful to be a part of something that has so much meaning behind it,” Caitlyn says. “I hope people will begin to realize the importance of donation.” Her parents, Shelley and Todd Persinger, and her sister Courtney will accompany her on the trip.

Caitlyn says the road to recovery was long following her transplant surgery at Aurora Medical Center in Summit, Wis., but she was able to return to playing high school sports. She describes her knee function now as “perfectly fine.”

For orthopedic surgeon Robert Seipel, M.D., the outcome is satisfying, but the circumstances leading up to the surgery were almost unheard of. He says it’s rare that a patient receives tissue from a relative, and in Caitlyn’s case, the tissue needed to be one of the grafts typically used for reconstructing the anterior cruciate ligament. The fact that her brother’s one remaining tissue met the criteria for her knee reconstruction was almost a miracle.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Dr. Seipel says, adding that Caitlyn’s successful surgery “means she truly will always have her brother with her.”

The experience has moved the Persinger family to become donation advocates. Caitlyn learned so much about donation that it was the topic of a persuasive speech she gave in one of her classes.

“Donation is a personal choice and I respect that,” Shelley says. “But I hope people become aware of the facts about donation so they can make an educated choice.”

Shelley says the family is excited to be making the trip and looks forward to the many activities they’ll participate in with other donor family members. That includes helping decorate the float and adding roses to the float’s dedication garden. The roses bear personal messages honoring Chris and the many others that made the gift of life possible.

Caitlyn is one of 32 float riders representing donor family members, transplant recipients and living donors. The float, “Journeys of the Heart,” depicts a collection of hearts symbolizing new life made possible by transplantation. The Persingers’ trip is sponsored by American Tissue Services Foundation.

The Donate Life float is supported by more than 120 official sponsors from coast to coast. The 124th Rose Parade, themed “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” will take place Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, at 10 a.m. Central Time, and features floral floats, equestrian units and marching bands.