Holding a floragraph of her son, John Akers, Linda Kennedy (center) is shown with Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital President Bill Jacobsen (far left), Akers’ sister, Nichole Shively (far right), and three of Akers’ young sons. The floragraph was completed during a private completion ceremony. It will be featured on the Donate Life float in the 125th annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
Friday, December 27, 2013
By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer
A depiction of a late Franklin County man will be featured on the Donate Life float in the 125th annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.
The late John Akers Jr.'s floragraph will be displayed on the float, along with 80 other floragraphs of those who have given the gift of life.
Akers, who died at the age of 27, was a resident of Rocky Mount and was described by his mother as "a little charmer."
"He had a way of melting just about any heart," said Akers' mother, Linda Kennedy. "Those who knew him said no one could ever stay mad at him. Growing up, John was the boy whom everyone liked. He was always helping others."
Akers lost his father at an early age, prompting many difficulties and struggles throughout his teenage years.
In April 2009, Akers lost his life, leaving behind four sons.
Before he died, Akers made the decision to become an organ donor. His tissue and corneas were donated to those in need of a transplant.
"That generous decision resulted in the gift of life for 37 people who are now enjoying better lives," said Kennedy.
After the death of her son, Kennedy found herself consumed with grief.
"I was living my life without any purpose whatsoever," she said.
Kennedy decided to speak out and share her son's story and help raise awareness about the importance of organ donation and the lives it can touch.
She contacted LifeNet Health (LNH), which had a grief companion program that put her in touch with someone who had been through a similar experience.
That someone turned out to be Lori Wyatt, who in 2011, received a life-saving kidney transplant from Kennedy.
"We (Kennedy and Wyatt) are now bound together through donation, friendship and love," said Kennedy.
"Our family has forever been changed by John's heroic decision."
Kennedy said several of her family members and friends have since decided to become organ donors.
Since 2004, the Donate Life Rose Parade float has served as a memorial to organ and tissue donors and a platform for donor families, living donors and transplant recipients.
The 2014 float entry features a festival of lanterns illuminating 30 riders -- all organ and tissue transplant recipients. The entry will also include 12 living organ donors walking alongside the float, demonstrating their ongoing vitality.
The float will also feature 81 memorial floragraph portraits, honoring deceased organ, eye and tissue donors. The float will be adorned with more than 5,000 roses with vials carrying personal messages dedicated to deceased donors, transplant recipients and patients in need.
This is the second consecutive year that LNH has been involved with the float committee. This year, both an LNH donor and an LNH recipient are being honored on the float.
Akers' floragraph was completed recently, followed by a private completion ceremony with family and volunteers.
The floragraph is a portrait created with floral materials, including grains, flowers, seeds, spices and other organic materials. It is 12 inches by 16 inches and oval in shape.
"John's floragraph is a dream come true," said Kennedy. "Despite all of our sadness, we see the light of new beginnings in the new year."
Donate Life urges viewers to help make dreams come true for more than 1 million people in need of life-saving organ, tissue and cornea transplants.
Currently, there are over 110 million registered donors in the United States.
To become an organ donor, sign up when renewing your driver's license or by visiting DonateLifeAmerica.org.
The Tournament of Roses Parade will be televised Jan. 1, 2014 at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on ABC and NBC.
Other stations that will broadcast the parade include Hallmark and HGTV (Home and Garden Television).