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Honored in a florograph

January 05, 2011|By Michael Miller, michael.miller@latimes.com

Leon Roach III wanted to become a neurosurgeon and save countless lives.

In the end, he saved just a few. But it was enough to get his face recognized at the Rose Parade.

Roach, a 19-year-old Marina High School graduate, died Sept. 3, 2009, at UC San Diego. The pole vaulter had traveled to campus for preseason practice when, during a rope swing drill, he fell off the mat and hit his head on the concrete floor. He died from a blunt head injury three days later.

Roach had signed up as an organ donor — and after his death, five of his organs went to needy recipients. On Saturday, his face was among those lining the Donate Life Rose Parade Float in Pasadena.

"He was going to be a neurosurgeon," said his mother, MaryAnn Roach. "He was pre-med, and we knew with him wanting to save lives, this is the only way now he can save lives. And he did. It's what he would have wanted, and we wanted it, too."

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Every year, Donate Life America, a nonprofit that encourages organ and tissue donations, puts together a float for the Rose Parade. Smaller nonprofits that work with Donate Life America recommend donors to be depicted on the float with "floragraphs," portraits made of flowers and other organic materials.

Roach was chosen by Lifesharing, a nonprofit based in San Diego, which contacted his family and arranged for them to create a floragraph. Float Committee Chairman Bryan Stewart said the float honors donors from across the United States.

"Our goal is quite simple," Stewart said. "It's to inspire all of America, and even beyond that, to support organ and tissue donation. In the U.S., every state has a donor registry, so our call to action is really quite specific: to call people to register."

Five of Leon Roach's family members worked on the floragraph, while about 70 friends helped decorate the float itself. His portrait, like the others, flew on a kite attached to the float.

It's not the only project the family has undertaken on their son's behalf. Last year, the Roaches raised $21,000 through a "vault-a-thon" at UC San Diego to pay for terraced seating next to the campus' pole vaulting area. The university also offers an athletic scholarship in his name.

MaryAnn Roach said she knows of some of the people who received her son's organs, and she has communicated with them over Facebook or with letters. For the moment, though, she's held off on meeting them in person.

"We're not quite ready yet to meet," she said. "But we will in the future. There's still a lot going on."

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