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‘It helped us in our own grief’: Bend native’s daughter Rylee saved three lives through organ donations

(Update: Adding video, comments from Toelle-Jackson and Donate Life official)

Special honor due on Rose Parade float

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Bend native Autumn Toelle-Jackson is helping honor her daughter, Rylee Marie Jackson, at the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., next Monday. The little girl succumbed to infant botulism at less than four months old. Rylee's parents donated her organs, saving lives.

Thanks to her parents' actions, Rylee donated her heart to a little boy, her liver to a little girl, and her kidneys to a woman in her 60s.

Now, her family is honoring her in a very special way.

 "Rylee passed away from infant botulism and we actually didn't even find that out until about two weeks after she passed," Toelle-Jackson said.

Toelle-Jackson is a 2002 Bend Senior High graduate and is now a Burns resident.

 Autumn and her husband, Kyle, donated Rylee's organs to bring new life and hope to others.

"Even though she was only 3 1/2 months old, she was able to donate her heart, her liver and her kidneys and save three lives," she said.

Two of the sponsors of the Donate Life float are the groups SODA (Student Organization Donation Advocates) and Growing with Grief. They both fundraised and went through a competitive application process to become sponsors.

Donate Life Executive Director Jackie Wirz said, "Up to eight organs can be donated for an individual, and up to 125 skin, tissue, and other types of samples may be donated." 

Wirz described how the float will be decorated.

"The floral graph is a visual representation of Rylee made out of living floral bits that are put on that float for the Rose Parade," Wirz said.

 Toelle-Jackson said, "The process of organ donation, and knowing that our little girl was able to save three additional lives really helped us in our own grief."

"A lot of times, families are left not knowing what they should do, not knowing what their children would have liked, not knowing what their parents would have liked," she said. "And so, SODA (Student Organ Donation Advocates) really promotes having those conversations at a high school or college age."

"I think it's really important, especially since I have two other children, and they lost their sister," she added.

 At the parade, there will be a brunch and a New Year's Eve celebration where the donor recipients and families can meet and catch up. Autumn also will be helping to build the float.

According to the group Donate Life, there are currently over 100,000 people on the transplant waiting list, and 17 people die every day waiting for a transplant.

Donate Life, a national nonprofit dedicated to saving lives by increasing the number of organs, eyes, and tissues donated, has had a float at the Rose Bowl Parade since 2004, promoting their life-saving mission among the approximately 700,000 attendees and more than 20 million Rose Bowl viewers.

At this year’s 134th annual Rose Parade, to be held on Jan. 2, two of the sponsors of the Donate Life float are SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocates and Growing with Grief. Together, they fundraised and went through a competitive application process to become sponsors.

SODA: Student Organ Donation Advocates is a nonprofit that inspires and supports student-led organ and tissue donation education, advocacy, and registration efforts on high school and college campuses. SODA currently has 51 chapters nationwide.

Toelle-Jackson sits on SODA’s Board of Directors and is the founder of Growing with Grief, which provides resources and hope for those who are grieving. She also is the award-winning author of Boldly into the Darkness: Living with Loss, Growing with Grief & Holding onto Happiness.  

Autumn, a passionate organ donation advocate, is no stranger to loss. Widowed at the age of 31, it was not until weeks later that she realized she could have asked about the possibility of her husband being an organ and tissue donor.

Later, when she and her second husband, Kyle, tragically lost their 3-month-old daughter, Rylee Marie, they immediately considered organ donation.

Rylee’s heart, liver, and kidneys were donated. Although the experience couldn’t take away their grief, it provided them with a semblance of comfort knowing that Rylee could help three other people, providing miracles through organ donation. One of the floragraphs, floral portraits adorning the Donate Life float, will be of Rylee.  

“Our family was shattered when we found out Rylee was not going to make it,” Autumn said. “However, when we found out she would be able to donate, saving the lives of three others, we felt a lightening of our grief. The experience taught us just how helpful organ donation is, not for recipients, but for donor families as well. We are honored to be able to share Rylee's story and promote organ donation and SODA at the 134th Rose Parade.”

At the Rose Parade, there will be a Floragraph Brunch and New Year’s Eve celebration, where the donor recipients and families can meet, interact and share their experiences. Autumn and Kyle will also be able to help put together the floragraph for the float, as they raise awareness and advocate for organ donation.

Donate Life Northwest, Oregon and SW’s local nonprofit supporting organ, eye, and tissue donation, encourages everyone to become part of our community by registering to be a donor – one person can save up to eight lives through organ donation and change the lives of as many as 125 through tissue donation. 

To learn more, register to become a donor, and/or read personal Stories of Hope from friends and family members here in Oregon and Southwest Washington, visit

About Donate Life Northwest

Founded in 1975, Donate Life Northwest is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is dedicated to saving lives and improving health through the promotion of organ, eye, and tissue donation. This is the only organization in the state that does education and awareness campaigns to increase the number of Oregonians registered to be organ, eye, and tissue donors for transplant. Donate Life Northwest is also the managing body of the current donor registry for the state of Oregon.  Learn more here: 

About Student Organ Donation Advocates (SODA): Student Organ Donation Advocates was founded at Washington University in St. Louis in 2014. In 2017, SODA’s second chapter was established at Marquette University, followed by its third chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After this success, SODA began to grow nationally and currently there are 51 branches. Today, SODA supports students who want to make a difference by helping them host events and lead organ donation chapters on their high school and college campuses. These students' efforts save lives and create positive ripple effects throughout their communities. 

Article Topic Follows: Bend

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Kelsey McGee

Kelsey McGee is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Kelsey here.


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