Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

December 29, 2013

Local 77-year-old to ride in Rose Bowl Parade

Jerry Sexton, double transplant recipient, to ride on Donate Life's float.

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — A 77-year-old Kokomo man and double transplant recipient will ride on a float in this year’s Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

Jerry Sexton Sr. is one of 30 people from across the world riding aboard Donate Life’s “Light Up The World” float.

Sexton and his wife have become strong advocates for organ donation. After all, it saved his life and greatly improved hers.

Rosie’s eyesight started failing her in the late 90’s, and without corneal transplants, she’d go blind. She went on the transplant list and received a right cornea in 2000 and a left one five years later.

A few years after her first transplant, she found out her husband needed one of a different kind.

In 2002, Jerry underwent a routine surgery that revealed a cirrhotic liver.

He waited four years for a transplant, but before it came, he found out his kidney was failing, too.

It was a hard time for him, he said.

He had to go to the hospital every six to eight weeks for blood transfusions and to have fluid drained from his stomach and chest cavity.

He was forced to stop working.

There were times he was sure his organs would give out before he found a donor.

But on June 15, 2006, Jerry received the call that would change his life. Doctors had both a liver and kidney for him. The organs were successfully transplanted the next day.

“I was so glad it was over,” he said. “And I feel great today.”

He started working part-time again at Staples. He and his wife mentor children, and the year after his transplants, the couple started volunteering with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization.

They work benefit concerts and are ambassadors with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The Sextons encourage everyone they can to become organ donors.

In Howard County alone, there are 16 people waiting for organ transplants. There are another 10 on the waiting list in Miami and Tipton counties, according to the organization.

Statewide, there are 1,480 people awaiting a transplant.

The Sexton’s advocacy efforts are what earned Jerry a spot on the float. The Indiana Organ Procurement Organization had to select one of its transplant recipients who also volunteered.

It was a hard decision to make because there are 700 volunteers, said Corinne Osinski-Carey, community relations coordinator for the organization.

But the Sextons log more than 100 volunteer hours every year.

When Osinski-Carey called Jerry to tell him the good news, he was shocked, she said.

“He was so excited that at first he didn’t even know what to say,” she said.

The Sextons left for California on Saturday. A group of well-wishers gathered at the airport to wish the couple luck.

While Jerry rides on the float, his wife will watch in the crowd.

“It’s kind of cool that she will be able to see him on the float through the gift she’s received,” Osinski-Carey said.

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune Life & Style editor, can be reached at 765-454-8585, at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com or via Twitter @LindseyZiliak.