A young man with a big heart and a love of life — that’s how Jeniffer Morris remembers her son, Justin Sollohub.
The stories Morris tells about her oldest boy also portray him as a selfless police officer, loving son, devoted older brother and a loyal fraternity member whose uncommon willingness to help others made him special.
Even in death, he managed to keep giving.
Sollohub, an Anniston, Ala., police officer, was just 27 when he was shot in the line of duty while pursuing a suspect on Aug. 24, 2011. A little more than 24 hours later, Justin’s family said goodbye to him — but not before, through their grief, they helped four other families get a second chance with their loved ones through organ donation.
Now Sollohub’s gift, his memory and his sacrifice will be celebrated at the 2013 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 1. He is one of 72 organ donors who will be remembered with a memorial floragraph — a portrait made from flowers — sponsored by the Alabama Organ Center and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Hospital on the Donate Life float, “Journeys of the Heart.”“As a family we had talked about organ donation and all had the belief that donation would be our wish,” Morris said. “We all felt that if someone else could have a second chance at life, we wanted to give that to them. Justin would be proud to know we honored his wishes. I believe he knows we are proud of him for what he accomplished in life as well as death.”
The Alabama Organ Center (AOC) “is proud to be a floragraph sponsor,” Executive Director Chris Meeks said. “For us, the Morrises represent the hundreds of donor families from Alabama who have graciously risen above their grief to help others. The float itself is a beautiful visual representation of donation and transplantation.”
The 2013 Donate Life Rose Parade float will carry 32 riders and honor organ, eye and tissue donors. Each of the individuals portrayed in the 72 floragraphs left a positive impact on their family, communities and those they helped. The floragraphs will line a heart-shaped path rising above the riders aboard the float, which dramatizes the ups and downs experienced by donor families, transplant recipients and living donors.
“In participating in the parade, we are not only celebrating the life of Justin Sollohub with his family, we are celebrating the lives of all of those who have generously given the gift of life to others, both donors and their families,” said Devin E. Eckhoff, M.D., director of the UAB Division of Transplantation and medical director of the AOC. “We hope our participation helps to raise awareness of organ donation so that the thousands of people waiting for a transplant can receive the gift of life.”
The float’s floragraphs, including Sollohub’s, will be partially decorated in Pasadena by volunteers. Sollohub’s floragraph will then be shipped to Alabama to be completed by his family and friends at two decorating events — one at Jacksonville State University’s Delta Chi fraternity house on Dec. 7, 2012, and another at UAB Hospital on Dec. 18 from 2-3:30 p.m. in the North Pavilion atrium. Sollohub attended Jacksonville State University, earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. He was an active member of Delta Chi throughout his four years in school, and his fraternity has remembered him with the Justin Sollohub Scholarship at Jacksonville State.
“Delta Chi was special to Justin because they were his extended family from the time he joined them in 2002 until he died,” Morris said. “He had a bond with all of his fraternity brothers that many people could never understand. They were by his side through his college years and beyond. They will remain family forever and they are active in keeping his memory alive. We believe it only fitting to have the decorating event at the house he considered his second home.”
Morris, her husband, Byron, and their son, Blake, will travel to Pasadena to see Sollohub’s completed portrait adorn the float. They also will participate in events before and after the 124-year-old Rose Parade.
“For Justin to be honored in a national forum shows us that many others realize what we have always known — that he was a great person and a joy to be around,” Morris said. “For people who did not know him, maybe they can learn just one thing from him — from tragedy and loss can come a new life and miracle for someone else.”
Today, more than 115,000 candidates are on the national organ transplant waiting list. Largely due to the rarity of donation opportunities, only about 28,000 organs are transplanted each year. As a result, 18 candidates die each day for lack of a donor. A single organ donor can save the lives of eight people, while a single tissue donor can save and heal 50 others through needed heart valves, corneas, skin, bone and tendons that mend hearts, prevent or cure blindness, heal burns and save limbs. Some 100 million Americans have checked “yes” for donation when applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses or identification cards. Sign up as an organ, eye and tissue donor by visiting www.alabamaorgancenter.org.