This year's Rose Parade included two Quad-Citians bonded by the ties of family and, in a more literal way, the ties of blood.
Mary Beth Murray and her brother-in-law, Eric Burge, of Davenport, were part of the Donate Life parade float during the Tournament of Roses parade, held before the New Year's Day Rose Bowl football game in Pasadena, Calif. Murray, who donated a kidney to Burge in 2013, walked, while her brother-in-law road on the float.
It was a way to honor the Iowa Donor Network, the organization that facilitates organ, tissue and eye donations in the state, they said.
“When we first joined this community and we started meeting people that were chosen in past years, I always thought it would be really cool to go out and help decorate the float,” Murray said. “Over the years, we’ve gotten involved and volunteered, but Eric has really paid it forward and he never says no to the Iowa Donor Network.”
For Murray, donating a kidney was something she had wanted to do for a long time.
“Many years ago, my dad had kidney failure from a different disease and I had hoped to donate to him, but it didn’t work out,” she said.
His mother donated a kidney to his father, and his older brother received a kidney from a friend of his son’s years ago. Her older brother also went into kidney failure, but was never healthy enough to receive a transplant.
Polycystic kidneys run in Burge’s family. The condition causes clusters of cysts to develop in the kidneys, often growing large and causing issues such as high blood pressure and kidney failure.
“So when Eric went into kidney failure and was put on dialysis, I was just very determined to be able to help him," Murray said.
Burge began his dialysis in February 2012.
“I had gone into kidney failure and started dialysis when Mary Beth decided to get tested," Burge said.
Both Murray and her husband did the first round of testing, seeing if their blood types were compatible with Burge.
“We were both matches, but only one of us could continue at the University of Iowa for extensive testing, and I wanted to do that," Murray said. She went through a battery of tests, which included psychological testing, before receiving the call that things were a go.
Meanwhile, Burge underwent a physical, including a heart workup, EKGs and an ultrasound of his heart before he was approved for a transplant.
“Basically, everything they could think of that could possibly impact your health negatively down the road,” he said.
The transplant surgery occurred Jan. 3, 2013.
More than six years later, neither have lingering issues from the surgeries. While close before the surgery — they've known each other since they were 13 — the surgery brought them closer.
“The first couple of years, I was probably a little overprotective of him and worried about him, and really kept a close eye on him,” Murray said. “I think I’ve loosened the reins a little bit.”
After the surgery, Burge found his voice as a public speaker, doing outreach at driver's education classes and at the Department of Motor Vehicles, both places where people can register to be an organ donor after death. The Iowa Donor Network also registers people, like Murray, willing to be a live, direct donor for a specific patient.
“I had never been much of a person that liked to talk to people or share things or anything like that, but one of the best ways that I can honor what Mary-Beth did and also raise awareness because both of my kids have polycystic kidneys, “ he said. “So getting involved just seemed like the natural thing to do."
Last April, an Iowa Donor Network employee asked if they'd be part of the parade.
Murray was blown away.
“I wanted to go out someday, but I didn’t ever realize it would be in that capacity," she said.
"When we got the invitation about the Rose Bowl ... all that was on my mind was, ‘this is an opportunity for Mary-Beth and all donors to get that recognition, get that respect," he said. “And I truly hope now when she thinks about what she did and when I randomly email her during the week and say, ‘hey, thank you,’ I hope she can think about the time out in Pasadena and being on that parade route with thousands of people, waving and cheering.”
Almost 600 people are on Iowa’s organ transplant waiting list, while more than 4,000 are on Illinois' waiting list. For more information and a state-by-state breakdown, visit unos.org.