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‘A precious gift’

Two Oklahomans will be featured in a Donate Life Rose Parade float.

Kevan Goff-Parker December 26th, 2012

Marilyn Yeakley held up a poster that read “Maegan Ariana Yeakley.” Surrounding the name were more than a dozen photos of a beautiful little brunette girl. In one, she was nestled in the arms of her father, Rusty Yeakley. In another, the girl was smiling up at her mother, Marilyn.

Rusty and Marilyn Yeakley

The Yeakleys adopted Maegan in August 2002. Months later, a routine medical checkup revealed that she had hydrocephalus and a rare developmental condition known as schizencephaly, which caused some of her cerebral lobes to deform.

A shunt was placed in Maegan’s brain and she began developmental therapy. By November of 2003, a CT scan showed marked improvement.

A month later, Maegan was hospitalized for flu-like symptoms. Doctors discovered that the shunt had stopped working. She died five days before Christmas 2003.

The 16-month-old girl left a powerful legacy, as her parents decided to help others. A young boy received Maegan’s heart; two adult men (both fathers) received her kidneys; and a little girl received her liver.

“Despite our grief in losing our child, donating her organs made it a little easier to overcome,” Marilyn Yeakley said, tears in her eyes. “We are the ones who were blessed. She was our little angel and we were lucky to have her.”

A memorial known as a floragraph — a portrait made of flowers and other natural materials — will display Maegan’s smiling face on the 2013 Donate Life America Rose Parade float on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.

Hers will be one of 72 floragraphs on the float; each portrays an organ donor.

The Yeakleys went on to adopt three more children after Maegan’s death. LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma, the state’s organ and tissue recovery organization, is sponsoring the family’s travel and accommodations in Pasadena. The group even provided tickets for the Yeakleys to attend the Rose Bowl.

Saving lives Also being sponsored by LifeShare is Valerie Vandervort Boyer, a double-lung transplant survivor. The Claremore resident will ride with other transplant survivors on the Donate Life float. She was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as an infant and was listed for a transplant in 1999.

Two years later, Boyer’s lung capacity was down to 16 percent when she received the lungs of a 15-year-old Missouri girl named Colbey Oglesby.

The donor had received her driver’s permit two weeks before the accident that took her life.

“When I visited the Oglesby family about five months later, they wanted to listen to my lungs. It was very emotional,” Boyer recalled.

“I told them, ‘Your daughter is in there.’ I said that although I could never make it up to them, I promised I would take very good care of myself. I know what a precious gift I had been given and I cherish them every day.”

Boyer, who recently adopted a baby, said she is still close to the Oglesby family and tries to see them once or twice a year.

Marilyn Yeakley
credit: Kevan Goff-Parker

Jeffrey Orlowski, chief executive officer at LifeShare Oklahoma and chairman of the board for Donate Life America, said there are 58 nonprofits like LifeShare and they all participate in Donate Life’s promotional campaign.

“We wanted to tell both sides of the story and to feature both the donors’ and the recipients’ experiences,” he said.

“We chose our participants from 10 or so families that are really involved with LifeShare Oklahoma, or who have been part of news stories and who were willing to share their stories. Remember, when you sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor — you save lives.”

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