Family

Teen's family, who gave life to others through organ donation, will be in New Year's Rose Parade

This is the floragraph of T'Neil Martin that will be featured on the Donate Life America float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Her mother, Denisha Henry, who made the decision to donate the 17-year-old's organs, painted coffee grounds on the portrait.
This is the floragraph of T'Neil Martin that will be featured on the Donate Life America float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Her mother, Denisha Henry, who made the decision to donate the 17-year-old's organs, painted coffee grounds on the portrait.

Denisha Henry carries a picture in her wallet of a photo of her 17-year-old daughter and the words of her last Facebook post taped onto the back.

"I might not have everything I want," T'Neil Martin wrote, "and everything may not go my way, but at least I'm happy and that's gotta count for something."

Within a week of that post, on July 20, 2010, the teen her mom calls "a rising star" had died.

What started as a complaint of a severe headache ended with the Bryan Station High School student dying of an undetected congenital defect which caused bleeding in her brain and irreparable brain damage.

The card that Henry carries with her everywhere will be with her on the plane ride to California where the family, who decided to donate T'Neil's organs and tissue, will be honored during the New Year's Day Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena.

A floral picture, or floragraph, of T'Neil will be among 72 featured on the parade float sponsored by the Donate Life America.

Henry and her husband, James, are being flown to California as representatives for the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates.

"The death of a child is such a tragedy, and this mother, like many of the parents of our young donors, has chosen to share the legacy her child has left through organ donation," said Jenny Jones, the director of education for Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates.

Of her decision to become an advocate for organ and tissue donation, Henry, who frequently talks to civic groups and schools around Kentucky, said she knew she couldn't retreat into her grief.

"I have to walk my talk," Henry said. "I couldn't just fall apart."

It was hard, she said, but, she found solace in telling T'Neil's story and in meeting some of the dozens of people who have benefitted from her organ and tissue donations.

Before T'Neil became suddenly ill, the family hadn't thought much about about organ donations. But once the doctors began gently talking to the family about options, Henry made the decision to have her family tragedy help someone else.

"It was something that we had never really talked about," said Henry. But, she said, T'Neil was "that one person that everybody loves. She was very giving and generous."

She would have wanted to help others, her mom said. The freckle-faced teen who dreamed of having a family and going to college is helping others fulfill their dreams.

The national organization Donate Life America sent the floragraph of T'Neil, which, like all decorations of the parade floats, must be made of organic material, to the family to add finishing touches.

It came with a paint brush, coffee grounds and instructions on how to fill in the eyebrows. A group of family and friends watched as Henry finished the floral portrait of her daughter.

Henry hopes the float, which will travel along a 5½-mile route in the legendary parade, will help to continue to spread awareness. After all, one donor can help up to 50 people, Henry said.

So the mom will continue to find it therapeutic to talk about her daughter's short life and takes comfort that her death has given others new life.

"She lived her whole life to the fullest," she said.

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