Delany Van Wert was 11 years old when Van Antwerp Middle School published one of her poems in its annual literary magazine.
The poem opened: “I wish I were a star glimmering in the sky.” And it finished: “I would be everlasting like a candle never blown out.”
She died two years after its publication, on May 7, 2010, from a sudden brain aneurysm. And while she is everlasting in her loved ones’ memories, she is also everlasting to 31 people she never even met.
Her expressed willingness at the age of 12 to become an organ donor saved five lives. Her lungs went to a 17-year-old, her heart to a man in his late 30s, her kidneys to two people in their 40s and her liver to a woman who had just turned 50.
Her corneas and tissue went to 26 different people, preventing or curing blindness, healing burns or saving limbs.
Van Wert, a 13-year-old Niskayuna girl, got her wish.
“She saw the red heart on my driver’s license one day,” recalled her father, Thomas Van Wert. “Even though her driver’s license was still four years away, that day she decided that she would also get that red heart. She never got the chance, though.”
Her parents remembered that day a year later when their daughter was pronounced dead inside Albany Medical Center, and knew she wished to be a donor.
Van Wert is the second-youngest donor who will be commemorated in the upcoming New Year’s Day parade known worldwide — the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, better known as the Rose Parade. Her family unveiled a floral portrait of Van Wert at Albany Medical Center on Wednesday, which will adorn one of 41 floats at the massive parade.
“It’s really an honor that they chose Delany,” said her mother, Sue Van Wert. “She’s representing so many others whose lives have been affected because of donations. We feel like it’s such an honor for her to be honored.”
Many of the floats are decorated with flowers or floral designs, since it is a rule that all surfaces of the float must be covered in natural materials.
Van Wert’s portrait, also referred to as a “floragraph,” was made using a mixture of crushed flowers, sand, seeds and coffee grounds.
Hers will be one of 72 memorial floragraphs lining a pathway of looping hearts on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float. Since 2004, the float has served as a memorial to organ and tissue donors. The Dr. Seuss-like heart design is inspired by the overall 2013 Rose Parade theme of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
The float will transport 32 people representing dead organ, eye and tissue donors, living donors and transplant recipients. It will also include a dedication garden filled with roses, which are placed in a vial that includes personal messages to the donors.
Van Wert had been intrigued for years by the heart valve replacement her grandmother had to allow her heart to function normally. The valve was from a pig, and it so fascinated Van Wert that she began collecting toy pigs over the years, earning herself the nickname “Oink.”
The 13-year-old’s portrait sits among dozens of other remarkable donors, now dead, and their stories.
- A 9-week-old Ohio boy with an unknown seizure disorder who helped save the lives of two other infants.
- A San Diego police officer who was shot while trying to help a seemingly distressed motorist
- An Alabama police officer who was gunned down at age 27.
- Another 27-year-old who was beaten to death while trying to help a drive-thru worker being bullied.
- A highly decorated member of the Army.
Donate Life uses the float as a way to encourage people to join America’s 105 million registered donors. And the Rose Parade is a surefire way to get a message out to a large audience. Hundreds of thousands of people turn out for the parade, with attendance reaching 1 million some years. About 70 million people watched the parade on television last year.
“There is a chronic and critical shortage of organs for transplant in the United States,” said Michael Thibault, executive director of the Center for Donation and Transplant, at Wednesday’s unveiling.
There are currently 115,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ that could save their life. Each day, 18 of these people will die because they don’t get one. Hundreds of thousands more each year need donated eyes and tissue to prevent or cure blindness, heal burns and save limbs.
The Van Werts will leave their Niskayuna home Dec. 28 to make the voyage to Pasadena, along with many other donor and recipient families.
“She just gave so much love and laughter to everybody,” said Sue Van Wert of her daughter. “She loved to joke around with her family. We were all very close. She touched so many people in so many ways.”