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Kidney donor Heidi will walk alongside the Donate Life Rose Parade float on New Year’s Day

By LYNETTE BRASFIELD

Heroic local businesswoman Heidi Miller, for whom “giving of herself” is not a metaphor but a physical reality – in 1991, she donated bone marrow, and, in 2017, one of her kidneys – has been selected to be part of Donate Life’s float in the upcoming Rose Parade.

Now in its 17th year, the Donate Life float is the centerpiece of a national effort to reach a broad audience with the simple, life-giving message that organ, eye, and tissue donation saves and heals lives. It is produced by OneLegacy, the largest such recovery organization in the world.

A boot camp junkie, Heidi has chosen to walk beside the float rather than ride on it.

“They like having donors walk, as it shows the power of donation, and that you’re able to walk the five-mile course without a problem,” Heidi explains. “Of course I laughed at that because I was running five miles 30 days after donating my kidney.”

Kidney donor Bruce

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Carol Pickup, Bruce Cook, and Heidi Miller celebrate two years of improving health; Carol held a Kidney Awareness party for Bruce to get the word out that he was dying of kidney failure and needed a donor

Much has happened since the day Heidi “shared her spare” and by doing so gave Bruce Cook a new lease on life after five-and-a-half years of dialysis and a dire prognosis of mere months to live.

“First of all, Bruce is doing great. We just had a celebratory two-year lunch. He’s getting his strength and stamina back,” she says. “We are all so very grateful that everything worked out so beautifully. He is enjoying life, traveling, playing with his grandchildren, and writing the Bay Window Magazine as well as articles for the Los Angeles Times/Daily Pilot.”

Saving a life proved addictive for Heidi, but of course she knew she had to hang on to her remaining kidney. However, in the past two years she has worked diligently, mostly on her own dime, to raise awareness about the importance of living donors and the usually minimal impact on the donor’s own health. 

Kidney donor wonder

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In the hospital, Heidi was dubbed Wonder Woman – a role she would later play in CHOC Follies in a nod to her courage 

“Since my donation I have mentored 75 potential donors and recipients, helped match 17, and 11 have had surgery. Hospitals send people with questions to me and friends/family of people in need call me almost daily now. I can easily put their minds to rest,” Heidi is proud to say. “I’m a kidney whisperer. And I’m healthier, in better shape, and more filled with gratitude than ever before in my life.”

As the owner of TightAssets, a quirky clothing store on Coast Highway, and of the iconic World Newsstand, as well as a board member of Laguna Playhouse (37 years) and the Historical Society (six years), Heidi doesn’t have much spare time. Yet she’s managed to come up with creative ways to raise money to support the cause. 

Just as she repurposed her kidney, now, during the occasional lull in her store, she repurposes broken jewelry to create stunning necklaces, containers, and glittering Donate Life trees.

Kidney donor trees

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Glittering trees, created from broken jewelry, are sold to raise money for kidney awareness outreach

“Locals have been so kind dropping off their used/broken jewelry, single earrings, and so on, for me to use on my pieces,” she says. “People are amazed at my creations. I’m getting better with experience. So people can help by donating their jewelry, buying my Donate Life creations, and shopping at my store.”

Heidi is planning to start a foundation in the spring to formalize the outreach efforts that she has championed. For now, she’s very excited about participating in the Rose Parade, something she has always wanted to do. Heidi pays tribute to the many friends who supported her nomination.

“I was nominated by Cedars Sinai and The Balboa Bay Resort. Then 250 of my friends wrote letters of recommendation to Donate Life/OneLegacy. When I finally met Kathleen Hostert, the head of the floats, she said, ‘So you’re the one we received so many letters in support of.’ My friends really helped me get a spot in the float.”

She can’t wait.

“It’s another way to raise awareness,” Heidi says. “I have four days of press interviews, float decorating, a New Year’s Eve Donate Life party, and so much more prior to the parade day. It’s going to be a blast.”