Alaskans to be honored on Donate Life float at 2018 Rose Parade

Claire Sundgren and Jeff Bayless will be featured in the Donate Life float at the 2018 Rose...
Claire Sundgren and Jeff Bayless will be featured in the Donate Life float at the 2018 Rose Parade January 1st. (KTUU)
Published: Nov. 10, 2017 at 1:28 PM AKST
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Two Alaskans have been chosen to be featured on the 2018 Donate Life float at the 2018 Rose Parade on January 1.

Captain Jeff Bayless and Claire Sundgren will have their images included in a florograph at the center of the float.

Both Bayless and Sundgren donated tissue to those in need.

Capt. Bayless, 51, was a senior captain for the Anchorage Fire Department and passed away in March of 2014 after he collapsed during a training exercise.

Bayless' sister, Cynthia Starnes, said it's a big deal for the family of the quiet, humble man from Copper Center.

"He was the type of person that gave all of himself while he was alive, so it was no surprise when I found out that he was a donor and that he was able to give to people after his death," Starnes said. "That's pretty meaningful just knowing that he's still out there."

Sundgren, 25, died in April of last year during an avalanche in the Hoodoo Mountains.

Sundgren's mother, Billie Sundgren Tewalt, said she had a close relationship with her daughter and knew her wishes to be an organ donor.

"It doesn't surprise me at all because Claire was so giving in life," Sundgren Tewalt said. "She would help anybody that she could so it only makes sense that even if physically she couldn't help anyone that needed it anymore, she's actually helped dozens and dozens of people by her gift of life by being an organ tissue donor."

Both families have worked with Chantelle Pence, family services coordinator for Life Alaska Donor Services.

"When someone dies, the love for them doesn't go away and so the families are left with all of this love and nothing to do with it 'cause you can't pick up the phone and call them anymore, you can't make them a sandwich if they forget a sandwich at work and so it's my great honor to learn about these donor families and to get to know them through their families," Pence said.

George McCann, president and chief executive officer of Life Alaska Donor Services, said there are over 500,000 people in the Alaska Donor Registry.

"If you look at all of the Alaskans who either have a driver's license or a government I.D. card, over 90 percent of Alaskans with drivers licenses or government I.D.s are enrolled in our Alaska donor registry, meaning they have decided to say yes to donation upon their death," McCann said.

An event held in honor of Bayless will be held at the AFD Training Center on Friday evening.

A gathering for Sundgren will be held in Fairbanks on November 18.

Family members of both will be flown to California for the parade.