GALT — In the two years since her son’s passing, Silvia Van Steyn never expected his story or image to gain national recognition.
But on Jan. 1, Michael Balsley-Rodriguez will be honored, recognized and remembered at the 131st Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, when his photo is turned into a floral portrait on the Donate Life float.
“It’s been pretty exciting,” Van Steyn said Monday about the honor. “It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just for his story to be shared... it just feels really good.”
In March of 2017, the 13-year-old Balsley-Rodriguez was home alone when he accidentally shot himself with the family’s gun and died.
Van Steyn had taken his cell phone from him that day, and she and her husband were at work, not due home for a few hours.
Their 19-year-old daughter had come home early to hear the gunshot as she stepped out of her car. She found her brother critically injured and called a neighbor for help.
After his death, the family donated his heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas, which were able to save the lives of five individuals.
The Donate Life float is created by Donor Network West every year for the parade. Van Steyn has been an advocate for the organization since her son’s death, which coordinates organ and tissue recovery for transplants in California and Nevada.
The family also created the Michael’s Miracle Foundation, which provides academic and sports scholarships to local youngsters, as well as raises awareness for organ donation and gun safety.
Van Steyn said the news of her son’s face being part of the Donate Life float was a complete surprise that left her in tears of joy.
“Donor Network West came to take photos for a poster,” Van Steyn said. “They wanted to use Michael’s story and I was going to be in the picture. They took some video for an interview and that’s when they told me.”
Described by family and friends as an energetic boy who loved dogs, video games and pranks, Balsley-Rodriguez was a youth football player who dreamt of becoming a player and coach for the Oregon Ducks later in life.
His floragraph will be one of 44 portraits made from organic materials in memory of organ, eye and tissue donors from across the United States.
“Michael will always be remembered as the young hero who transformed the lives of others in great need,” Donor Network West chief executive officer Janice F. Whaley said in a media statement last month.
“His family’s decision to donate life forever changed the lives of the recipients and continues to inspire our communities to register as organ and tissue donors,” she said.
The Tournament of Roses Parade attracts an estimated 700,000 spectators each year, and draws more than 70 million television viewers worldwide.
This year’s Donate Life float will be themed ‘Light in the Darkness,’ and will include 70 participants from across the country. Some 26 organic and tissue recipients and living donors will ride the float or walk alongside it during the parade.
Van Steyn and her family will not be part of the parade, but will be watching from the grandstands on New Year’s Day.
Family members joining her in Pasadena will be her husband David, their two daughters and her two sisters.
“I never thought this would happen,” Van Steyn said. “I’ve seen people being remembered by Donor Network West, but didn’t think Michael would be in this way. Just to be able to share his experience and story... and know that he’s helped so many others is amazing.”