Young Nevada Woman to be Honored in Rose Parade

A UNR student with a heart for her community saved lives through organ and tissue donation

(Sparks, NV)  October 8, 2018 – Haylee Ponte, a college student from Sparks who died unexpectedly in 2015 and healed lives through organ and tissue donation, will be featured and remembered at the 130th Rose Parade® with a floral portrait on the Donate Life float. The announcement was made today by Donor Network West, the organ and tissue recovery organization for Northern Nevada.

Haylee was an active and vibrant young woman. She loved to ski, dance, and travel with family and friends, spending many weekends at nearby Lake Tahoe. She excelled academically as a biochemistry student at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) hoping to become a physician. She was also an altruist and volunteered her time for a Reno breast cancer charity and at a local hospital.

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough,” was Haylee’s favorite quote. But her hopes and dreams were sadly taken away when she died as a result of an acute asthma attack; she was only 19. A floral portrait of the young woman will adorn the 2019 Donate Life Rose Parade float, alongside 43 other floragraphs in memory of organ, eye, and tissue donors from across the United States.

Even in their grief, her parents – Nancy and David – were considering donation before they learned that Haylee had already registered as a donor when she applied for her driver’s license.  Knowing that their daughter had made the decision herself was comforting to them, but not surprising because they knew how generous she was in life. Haylee went on to save three lives through organ donation and heal many others with her tissues.

Haylee was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree posthumously from UNR and the certificate is proudly displayed in the home of her parents.

“This is a dream come true, something I will never forget. I get emotional when I think about it because it’s a huge honor for Haylee; she’s going to be glowing that day,” says Nancy Ponte, Haylee’s mother.

The Rose Parade, which will take place in Pasadena, CA on January 1, 2019, will be watched by an estimated 700,000 spectators and seen by over 63 million television viewers worldwide. This parade theme, The Melody of Life, celebrates music, the universal language.

The 2019 Donate Life float’s theme, Rhythm of the Heart, depicts an exciting design that invites parade audiences to experience the music of Africa, in a vibrant, colorful float that features musical instruments and cultural artifacts that represent different African countries and cultures.

Overlooking the floragraphs is a dramatic double Senufo mask from the Ivory Coast that gives thanks to ancestors and remembers those who have gone before. Twenty-six living donors or transplant recipients ride or walk beside the float, gathering around the drums, a giant marimba from Ghana, and an exotic kora from Burkina Faso. The kora and marimba play important parts in the passing down of stories of previous generations in song. Rising over the rear of the float are spectacular chiwara headdresses from Mali; these stylized antelope headdresses are featured in dances that teach youth the value of community, in the same way the donation and transplantation community come together to share the importance of donation.

“Haylee lived her life to the fullest and gave back to her community wholeheartedly. Her story speaks to how organ and tissue donation truly transforms lives and we are very glad to be able to honor her this way,” says John Lilley, Nevada Regional Director for Donor Network West.

Nearly 600 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Nevada. One organ donor can save the lives of up to eight people and a tissue donor can heal more than 75 others. Anyone can register as a donor at or at the DMV.

About Donor Network West
Donor Network West saves and heals lives by facilitating organ and tissue recovery for transplantation. The organization was established in 1987, and is an official Donate Life organization accredited by the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO) and the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). Federally designated to serve 40 counties in Northern California and Nevada, Donor Network West partners with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the state-authorized donor registries. For information, visit and follow us on social media: @mydnwest

About the Pasadena Tournament of Roses®
The Tournament of Roses is a volunteer organization that hosts America’s New Year Celebration® with the Rose Parade® presented by Honda, the Rose Bowl Game® presented by Northwestern Mutual and a variety of accompanying events. 935 volunteer members of the association will drive the success of 130th Rose Parade themed “The Melody of Life,” on Tuesday, January 1, 2019, followed by the 105th Rose Bowl Game. For more information, visit Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.