Kalamazoo man honors organ, tissue donors in Rose Parade


82-year-old heart recipient: Walking with Donate Life parade float is ‘on my bucket list’

A five-mile trek first thing in the morning might sound daunting to many people, but not to David Rozelle.David Rozelle, heart transplant recipient, running at a recent event

The 82-year-old Kalamazoo resident plans to do just that — and more — on Jan. 1, 2020, when he walks alongside the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.

“It’s sort of a bucket list kind-of-thing,” he said. “I’m getting pretty old now. At my age you should have a bucket list. I said: ‘I’m going to do whatever I have to do to be part of that.’”

Rozelle has a special reason to walk along the Donate Life Rose Parade float, which is entitled “Light in the Darkness.” A donor’s heart saved his life in 2001, and he’s been active and giving back to the community ever since.

He first experienced heart issues in 1984, when he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. Doctors revived him, but the attack had damaged a third of his heart. He followed his prescribed rehabilitation of diet and exercise and said he didn’t notice any adverse effects until about 17 years later.

“Apparently, I was deteriorating slowly,” Rozelle said. “I didn’t realize it until it got to a crisis. I got so weak I couldn’t climb stairs; I had to crawl up them. I couldn’t work anymore — I fell down once and couldn’t get up. I was getting an awful lot worse all of the sudden.”

When his cardiologist told him that he couldn’t do anything else for him, Rozelle brought up the idea of a heart transplant. At the time, he didn’t know exactly what was involved — he thought it was a routine procedure. He soon found himself at Michigan Medicine, going through extensive tests to determine if he was a viable candidate for a transplant. He was in the hospital for his 63rd birthday, and the call came five days later: two teenagers were killed in a tragic accident driving from school to their afterschool jobs, and one was donating a heart.

“It was a miracle. You kind of get religion when something like that happens,” he said. “I was a diligent walker after that. It was important to keep myself in shape so I could make the most of what happened to me and how I had benefitted from somebody else’s grief.”

A business professor at Western Michigan University, Rozelle even went back to work. Doctors told him to walk two miles a day after he healed, so he walked three, instead. Walking transitioned into running, and he took part in five U.S. and Donate Life Transplant Games and five World Transplant Games, medaling in all of them. He continues to volunteer several times a week at Loaves & Fishes pantries throughout the Kalamazoo area.

His volunteerism has cut into his walking time and he stopped running last year — except, he said, when he’s crossing the street — but he’s confident that he’s up to the challenge of walking the entire Rose Parade route with fellow organ recipients.

“I’ve been a big fan of Gift of Life and Donate Life, of course,” he said. “The parade is wonderful, and it’ll be nice to be a part of it.”

Gift of Life Michigan is sponsoring a donor memorial floragraph in memory of Marissa Tudor on the Donate Life Rose Parade float, as well.

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