This story was written by La’Tanya Dandie, who is the mother of Khalieghya, the liver transplant recipient.
Khalieghya Dandie-Evans is the chosen one. As the 2020 Donate Life Float rider in the 131st Rose Parade in Pasadena on New Year’s Day she is at the top of her world. The float the Richmond resident will ride in is called “Light in the Darkness.”
The float will be adorned with thousands of roses from all over the country, each representing an individual donor or transplant recipient, as well as 44 memorial portraits made of flowers of deceased organ, eye and tissue donors.
The title is appropriate given Dandie-Evans’ rocky start in life. Born prematurely and diagnosed with Biliary Atresia — a disease that scars the liver and causes bile to build up — Dandie-Evans faced death at 5 months old.
Although she has no memory of it, Dandie-Evans is familiar with the story. She needed a liver transplant in order to survive. Her father matched, but he declined and other donors with her blood type were rare. After less than a month on the waiting list for a transplant, Dandie-Evans had become so sick and weak that doctors warned her mother that they would have only hours before she would be removed from the recipient list.
Stricken with the thought and pain of losing a child La’Tanya went home to discuss the decision with her other three children, Kevin 11, Kristopher 10 and Kheyaira 5. But before she could do it, she was awakened by an early morning call. A 4-year-old boy with the same blood type as Dandie-Evans had drowned in Fresno and was registered as an organ donor. “Please get back here and help us prepare, “Little Khalieghya,” they advised. That night, Aug. 6, 2002, Dandie- Evans underwent a 12-hour transplant surgery at Stanford’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
Now a lively 17-year-old senior at Oakland Military Institute who plays softball and other sports, Dandie-Evans nevertheless struggles with her condition. She has high blood pressure, junior arthritis, hearing loss and dermatomyositis and takes 17 pills twice a day to thwart organ rejection. Over the years she has been hospitalized several times for reactions to medications, kidney failure and multiple surgeries to remove her tonsils and adenoids and breast tumors caused by the immunosuppressive medications.
In her speech at the Richmond Historic Museum where she received a Certificate of Recognition from Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks’ office, the Rose Parade honoree also told of her hopes: Despite missing weeks of school, she’s on track to graduate with honors in 2020 and has dreams of working as a therapist for children on the autism spectrum.
“I live a happy, active life, I smile and tell corny jokes,” Dandie-Evans said. “I got a second chance at life because a family said “Yes” (to registering their son as an organ donor).”
Having a transplant was not going to control Khalieghya’s life. I didn’t know how to treat her any differently than I treated my other children. I didn’t give her excuses or any stops, and that’s what kept her alive, smiling, well and happy.
Dandie-Evans wants to promote organ donation especially in the African American/Black community. She believes not enough People of Color have this type of conversation to become educated about saving lives.
“We just don’t have enough people to say yes to donation,” said Cathy Koubek of Donor Network West. “With the Rose Parade and the national attention, we hope people will really take a moment to think about this and make the decision to become a donor.”
Dandie-Evans is a living example of why people should register as organ donors, said Koubek. As of July 2019, more than 113,000 people were on the national organ transplant waiting list, according to organdonor.gov; 20 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant.