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Ryan J. Converse to be remembered, featured in Rose Parade


As an avid football fan and former player for Watertown High School, Ryan J. Converse would have been honored to participate in the upcoming Jan. 1 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

Instead of watching the parade from the sidelines, Ryan will be looking down on it as floats go by, including the Donate Life float that features a floragraph of him. The Rose Parade is held each year before the annual Rose Bowl Game, a collegiate football game featuring the Big Ten Conference champion and the champion from the Pac-12 Conference.

Mr. Converse died July 2, 2010, after being struck by a car just outside his home on Route 283. His organs were then donated and two years later, he will be remembered for giving others the gift of life.

“It’s nice knowing Ryan’s life has carried on,” said his father, Joseph J. Converse. “It seems totally wasted; he was only 21 when he passed. We’re just still trying to make sense of it.”

Ryan is the first north country organ donor to be featured on the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade.

Vicki L. Converse, Ryan’s mother, recalled the tragic accident. She said Ryan wore all black when he attempted to cross the road about 2 a.m. to go see a friend nearby. He then was struck by a car.

“I heard it,” Mrs. Converse said. “I was the first one there.”

Mr. Converse said emergency personnel revived his son’s heartbeat on scene, but he was pronounced dead later at Samaritan Medical Center. Ryan was not a registered organ donor, but before the Converses were even approached about donating his organs that night, their minds already had been made up.

“He was the type of kid that would have given you the shirt off his back,” Mr. Converse said. “The biggest thing is how unselfish he was. He definitely was an outgoing person who was full of life.”

The Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network was good to the Converse family, he said, and let them know what organs were able to be recovered. Mr. Converse said he and his wife don’t know the recipients, but hope to in the future. Four males received some of Ryan’s organs.

Rob Kochik, executive director of the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, said the Converse family, including Ryan, and other donors and their families are to be commended for helping others in need.

According to its website, the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network is a nonprofit organization that “coordinates organ and tissue donations in New York state’s Finger Lakes, Central and Upstate regions.” The network works with 38 hospitals in that region, and helps coordinate transplants mainly at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, and the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Mr. Kochik said it’s important that people like the Converses share their story, in hopes of inspiring others to at least have conversations with loved ones about becoming an organ donor.

“We wish we could honor every single one of our donors and families,” Mr. Kochik said. “With Ryan, we really wanted to honor families who continue to promote donation.”

For the past two years, the Converse family has hosted the annual Ryan Converse Memorial Golf Tournament, which has had 55 teams throughout two local golf courses. Each year, participants have raised about $10,000 for the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network and some local nonprofit organizations.

The main goal of the Donate Life float, Mr. Kochik said, is to draw attention to the bright colors and big design, so people can put faces and names to those who have either donated organs or received donated organs.

He said the most common reason people don’t want to donate is because no one approached them to talk about it. Creating awareness of organ donation will help give hope to about 117,000 people on the national waiting list, Mr. Kochik said.

Next year, the state will jump-start that conversation for people with the recently passed Lauren’s Law, which Mr. Kochik said will require people filling out Department of Motor Vehicle application documents to answer “yes” or “skip question” when asked whether they want to be an organ and tissue donor.

“We’re really excited about that,” he said. “You can also enroll when you register to vote.”

Ryan’s floragraph, made of flowers, will be one of 72 from throughout the nation on the Donate Life float.

On Dec. 17, Samaritan Medical Center will host a press conference with people from the network, the Converse family and medical staff, as they watch Mr. and Mrs. Converse put some finishing touches on the floragraph. As the Donate Life float goes by in the parade, Mr. and Mrs. Converse will be right there to see another glimpse of their son.

“I’m excited to see it all,” Mrs. Converse said.

After the parade, the Converse family will get to keep the floragraph.

While the Converses look at participating in the event as a blessing, Mr. Converse said it also brings the family back to a sad time.

“Going back to it — imagine your worst nightmare and tripling it,” he said. “It just devastates you. But I think this will help heal some wounds. We didn’t choose this; we’re just trying to make the best of it. We’d like to have everyone watch (the parade) and get something out of it.”

Also featured on the Donate Life float will be Susan E. Sprague, Syracuse, who will celebrate both her 50th birthday and 15 years since her kidney/liver transplant. As she rides the float with other organ recipients, Mr. Kochik said, she’ll be wearing orange to show support for her home community.

Since Ryan’s death, Mr. Converse said, he and his wife have gotten many people to sign up to become organ donors.

“Most people just don’t think of it,” he said. “When I went and renewed my license last year, they asked me if I wanted to be an organ donor. I didn’t have a choice — I donated my son’s. One of our goals is to make awareness of it.”

North country families can honor a loved one who is either an organ donor or a recipient by purchasing a rose to go on the Donate Life float. More information can be found on the Donate Life float website,

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