NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - The family of a Paterson baby girl whose organs saved the lives of others will see her life commemorated in the Tournament of Roses Parade next month.
A “floragraph” that celebrates the infant's brief life will adorn the Donate Life Rose Parade Float on New Year’s Day.
Katty and Angel Mercado, surrounded by their children, Meri, Shayla and Angel, last Thursday completed the floragraph of their child, Melissa Bena, who died when she was six weeks old. The floragraph depicting Melissa is created with flowers, seeds and other natural materials. It will be one of 72 that honors organ and tissue donors on the float.
The family will travel to Pasadena, Calif. to see the floragraph. The Donate Life Rose Parade Float honors donors and their families and spreads the message of organ and tissue donation.
At the floragraph ceremony Thursday, Katty Mercado recalled being approached at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson by Rodger Davenport, a New Jersey Sharing Network transplant coordinator, after her daughter died in an automobile accident. “The amount of strength that this family possessed--I was in awe,” Davenport said. The family made the generous decision to donate Melissa’s organs. The baby’s kidneys saved the life of a young mother and her heart saved the life of a three-month-old boy.
“When we were first approached at the hospital, I didn’t want another mother to cry like I cried,” Katty Mercado said at NJ Sharing Network headquarters in New Providence. “I did not want to see another family suffer like mine did. I wanted somebody else to be saved.”
She said her ongoing volunteer work with NJ Sharing Network has helped her and her family heal.
“My volunteer work and being part of NJ Sharing Network has helped us dry the tears. Not all of them, but some of them,” Mercado said.
Melissa’s nickname was butterfly, and the family was surprised and moved to learn this year’s float depicts 60 butterflies emerging from an open book. The butterflies will ascend above 72 books adorned with “floragraph” portraits of deceased donors whose legacies are celebrated. Twelve living donors will walk alongside the float and 30 organ and tissue transplant recipients will ride on the float to demonstrate the life-saving and life-enhancing power of donation.
At the ceremony, Joe Roth, president & CEO of NJ Sharing Network, described Katty and Angel Mercado’s dedication to the lifesaving mission and their generosity in sharing their story. He talked about the family’s work to clean and dedicate a park in Paterson that now honors Melissa, as well as spreading the word in schools, hospitals and the community.
“The Mercado family members have become ambassadors sharing their story to inspire others,” Roth said.
Elisse Glennon, executive director of the NJ Sharing Network Foundation, noted the family also created “Team Butterfly” at the NJ Sharing Network 5K Walk and USATF-Certified Race in the spring.
“The Mercado family will be in the parade grandstand and they will be able to see the floragraph of Melissa as their beautiful girl shares her story with the world,” Glennon said.
Mercado said she wants to honor her daughter when she travels to Pasadena, but also all donors.
“When I go to Pasadena,” she told those gathered Thursday. “I will let not just my butterfly go, but thousands of other butterflies who have saved lives as well.”
The NJ Sharing Network Foundation is sponsoring the family’s trip to Pasadena.
The family is one of four New Jersey families traveling to the parade to honor deceased donors, along with a heart recipient and a living donor.