Tehachapi organ donor to be posthumously honored in Rose Parade
The only kidney with which Thomas Vanderhorst was born is still functioning properly -- more than 2,000 miles from his ashes.
Vanderhorst, who lived in the greater Tehachapi area, was a diesel mechanic who died in 2004 from complications following an aortic valve replacement.
Thanks to organ donation, however, the late 47-year-old's legacy is alive and well.
Shortly after Vanderhorst's death, his kidney was given to a Pennsylvania man who in August named his newborn son Thomas in Vanderhorst's honor.
What's more, Vanderhorst will be posthumously honored during the upcoming Rose Parade on a float with floral tributes to dozens of organ, tissue and eye donors from across the country.
The Donate Life "Seize the Day!" float, which will feature colorful kites as well as "floragraphs" of donors like Vanderhorst, is meant to encourage people to consider how helpful their body parts can be to others after death.
"It keeps a part of the person alive, it leaves a legacy for them, and it helps other people live," said Joyce Vanderhorst, Thomas' wife. "That's the most wonderful gift you can give someone -- the gift of life."
The float, which has participated in the annual parade for seven years, is 55 feet long and will also have room for 30 riders, some of them transplant recipients.
All of the Donate Life honorees are sponsored by partner organizations, which financially support the nonprofit alliance's float and which are responsible for selecting the donors who are memorialized on New Year's Day.
Vanderhorst, for example, is being honored by JJ's Legacy Committee, a Bakersfield-based donation group that was formed in Jeffrey Johns' memory. Johns was a 1999 Garces High alumnus whose organs were donated after he died in a tragic accident in 2009.
Joyce Vanderhorst said she didn't talk at length with her husband about organ donation but felt it matched his giving personality.
"He said, 'If they'll take 'em, sure,'" recalls Joyce, who will travel to Pasadena in early December to decorate the float. "I got an exciting phone call on Saturday evening saying he had been picked for a floragraph.
"It really surprised me -- it's been a while since we gave the organ. But I was thrilled."
The couple, who met at a stable in Anaheim and married in 1984, lived for several years in Bear Valley Springs.
Joyce, a school nurse, moved back to Arizona after Thomas' death to be closer to her family. But she plans to sprinkle some of her late husband's ashes in the Tehachapi Mountains.
Joyce and her children, 17-year-old Nic and 15-year-old Tina, keep in touch with Bill Sherbine, the recipient of Vanderhorst's kidney.
Sherbine, 36, waited about two and a half years for a transplant as he battled polyarteritis nodosa, a disease that affects blood vessels.
"Without the kidney transplant, I'm sure I would've died," Sherbine said. "(Thomas) is the only reason I'm alive, so he's the only reason my son could be here."
The news that Sherbine named his son after Joyce's late husband brought tears to her eyes.
"It was very emotional," Joyce said. "(Thomas) was an average guy. But I loved his smile, his willingness to help everyone."
How to register for organ, tissue and eye donation:
Donate Life California (nonprofit, state-authorized)
Contact: Miryam Mora Barajas
Department of Motor Vehicles
Local address: 3120 F St.
Interested donors can register when they sign up for or renew their driver's licenses or identification cards.