New Jersey family's son honored in Rose Parade

December 29, 2011 4:33:04 AM PST
A family from New Jersey is being honored on a float at the Rose Parade in Pasadena next Monday for their son, who died in 1997.

Roberto Perez was just 17 when he died of a brain aneurysm, but because he was an organ donor, he gave life to 5 others.

The Perez family will leave their home in North Bergen to fly out to California at 6 a.m. Thursday.

They'll have front row seats to the Tournament of Roses Parade, where their son Roberto will be the only New Jersey organ donor honored on a very special float.

"I see that part of my son is still here and I feel very proud that my son gave life to the person," said Maria Perez, Roberto's mother.

Maria Perez's 18-year-old son Roberto was a healthy college freshman when he died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1997.

His parents made the decision to donate his organs, a choice that they are grateful for every day.

"Because of the decision we made, Roberto saved five lives," Perez said.

Roberto's heart still beats in the chest of a 78-year-old man who lives on Long Island.

Maria says she felt an instant connection.

"The first thing I asked is if I can put my ear on his heart and listen to his heart because that's my son's heart. So it makes me very proud," Perez said.

This year, Roberto's portrait, made of flowers, will be featured on a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, which honors donor families and recipients.

"I know Roberto is happy we made the decision we did," Perez said.

On the day they were presented with Roberto's parade portrait, his parents were joined by the man who has his kidney, and by the widow of a man who had his pancreas and lived nine years longer before passing away. "If I save two people, I know I'm doing my job. It's a legacy, it's a legacy that we're going to continue," Perez said.

The Rose Bowl Parade is next Monday.

71 organ donors will be featured on the float, Roberto is the only one from New Jersey.

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