2013-12-21 / News

Thornville man’s donation to be celebrated in Pasadena

By Scott Rawdon

The Sills Family with Robert’s floragraph for the Donate Life float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Courtesy photo. The Sills Family with Robert’s floragraph for the Donate Life float in the Rose Bowl Parade. Courtesy photo. THORNVILLE – Heron Bay resident Barb Sills remembers her late husband, Robert Sills, as a “big man with a big smile,” whose spirit lives on through others and will be celebrated on a float during this year’s Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California.

Robert became a tissue donor when he died February 27, 2010, after suffering a brain aneurysm while driving on a Columbus freeway. He was 65 years old and left behind his wife, two daughters and grandchildren. While Robert was a registered donor, Barb was not: “When I saw how many people Robert was able to help, even after his death, I realized how selfish I had been and quickly registered as an organ donor,” she said.

Robert was able to donate his corneas and 179 tissue grafts to help 180 people. “We are so proud of his legacy of life,” said his daughter Bergen.

Barb joined Lifeline of Ohio, an independent, non-profit organization promoting and coordinating the donation of human organs and tissue for transplantation. Each year, Lifeline randomly selects donors to be honored with a “floragraph,” which is basically a portrait of the donor created from all natural materials, which will be displayed with others on the Donate Life Float in the Rose Bowl parade. “I was told I had been selected through a drawing at Lifeline,” said Barb. “It’s quite an honor. It kind of blew us away. It puts a face on organ and tissue donations.”

Photographs of the honored donors are converted into postersize images, which are printed and applied to a foam or wood backing. The portraits are then decorated in a method akin to “color by number.” Families who cannot come to Pasadena prior to Christmas apply the finishing touches to their loved ones’ portraits at a local “floragraph finishing event” organized by their sponsors.

Before Robert’s death, he was committed to development and volunteer efforts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The hospital joined Lifeline of Ohio in celebrating Robert’s gifts of life and service to his community at the Sills’ floragraph finishing event on Dec. 6. The completion of Robert’s floragraph, a 12” x 16” portrait of an organ donor, at this event guided the family through the deeply meaningful process of bringing the floragraph portrait to life. Barb said the entire portrait was finished ahead of the event, except for the eyebrows. “My daughters and I got to finish the eyebrows,” she said.

Robert’s portrait will be featured on a ‘Light Up the World’ themed Donate Life float as one of 81 memorial floragraphs shining a light on organ, eye and tissue donation. Barb and her daughters look forward to being in the grandstands for the Rose Bowl Parade, which airs locally, beginning at 11 a.m. Jan. 1. The Donate Life float will be the fifth float in the parade just behind the Budweiser Clydesdales and broadcast within the first half hour.

In addition to the importance of shedding light on organ and tissue donation, Barb said the experience is giving her and her daughters closure following Robert’s unexpected passing. “It’s been so helpful to us,” she said. “I never had a chance to say goodbye to him. It’s been wonderful to see him honored in such an unbelievable way. We’ve gone from grieving our loss to celebrating his life.”

Barb said she and her family moved to Heron Bay four years before Robert’s passing. “He loved to fish,” she said, and she convinced him to move there. Robert was also known for his colorful stories and outgoing personality, and for his love of cooking, the St. Louis Cardinals, and his family. “He loved to tell a good joke,” said Barb.

For most of his business career, Robert was an agent with New York Life Insurance Co. holding the honor of being a 29- year member of the Million Dollar Round Table. He was active in his church and a long-time volunteer and supporter of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Charity Newsies in Columbus, Ohio.

“Robert had several health problems, but despite these he was able to donate his corneas and 179 tissue grafts, which have the potential to help more than 180 people, said Barb. “With the transplant waiting list at nearly 120,000, the need is so great. You are never too old to be a donor. Don’t self-select out. Doctors will determine what can be recovered.”

Barb sees her late husband’s legacy continue through those who received the donations. “He’s still doing good,” she said. “He’s still helping people.”

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