Larry LaRue

For Auburn organ donor who died tragically, a ‘floragraph’ and a place in the Rose Parade

Rachel Givens was killed by a hit-and-run driver last year while walking across a dark highway in Sumner. Her decision years earlier to be an organ donor helped give life and health to others.

“Our family considers her a hero,” said her mother, Laura Givens.

On New Year’s Day, the world may share that view. A likeness of Rachel’s face will be one of 72 adorning a float honoring organ donors during the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California.

This week, Laura Givens and her family got to see that likeness — called a “floragraph” — when the Donate Life folks brought it to the Muckleshoot Tribal School, where Laura taught and coached.

Laura’s family, friends and students were on hand to see the likeness and put the finishing touches on it.

“To be in the Rose Parade, everything must come from nature,” Laura said. “Rachel’s facial portrait came from organic material, seeds, coffee grounds.”

The Donate Life Rose Parade float, called “The Never-Ending Story,” will have 60 butterflies rising above 72 books adorned with floragraph portraits of deceased organ donors.

It’s fitting that Rachel will be among them. The 23-year-old woman’s gift of organs, corneas and tissue saved five lives and helped many others.

“It is a bittersweet thing being a donor family,” Laura said. “You want to know how those she helped are doing. I’ve gotten letters from some of those who were helped.

“You cry, you’re sad, but after that you’re like, ‘Wow, the things she’s still accomplishing.’ ”

Rachel’s high school résumé was one of athletic success. A member of the Auburn Riverside High School class of 2008, she helped the girl’s basketball team take back-to-back state championships and was chosen most valuable player of the South Puget Sound League in soccer.

She attended Cochise College in Arizona, was injured playing soccer and came home. In 2010, she earned her paraeducator certificate and was hired by the Muckleshoot Tribal School.

By early 2013, she was working with kindergarten through fifth-grade students, and coaching both soccer and basketball teams.

And she told friends and family about one more athletic goal.

“Rachel wanted to play in the WNBA,” her mother said.

It was more than a pipe dream. A marvelous three-point shooter in high school, Rachel began working out — lifting weights, running, playing basketball — early in 2012. The goal, she said, was to be fully prepared for WNBA tryouts in the spring of 2014.

On Saturday night, Oct. 25, 2013, Rachel and some friends were hanging out with Rachel’s mom, then headed to a pub and eatery in Auburn.

“We were laughing and talking, and when they all decided to go somewhere else, I told her I loved her,” Laura said. “Rachel told me she loved me. I’m blessed that those were our last words to each other.”

At 11 p.m., Rachel parked her car and tried to cross the East Valley Highway to join her friends at the Log Cabin Pub and Eatery in Sumner. As she crossed the street, she was struck by what police said was “a small dark sedan or sports car.”

She was kept alive at Tacoma General Hospital for two days, in large part so organ donors could be prepared for transplants. Rachel donated her heart, lungs, liver and kidneys, along with her corneas and other tissue.

“I’d registered as a donor years ago, and had a little red heart on my driver’s license,” Laura said. “When Rachel saw that, she decided she wanted one on her license, too. When she got her first license at 16, she registered as an organ donor.”

The Muckleshoot Tribal School established a scholarship in Rachel’s name, then created an annual “Rachel GIVES” basketball tournament last May. All proceeds from the tournament go to her scholarship fund.

“In Native American tradition, the Muckleshoot have bent over backwards to support us, and they’ve been a stronghold for us — even though we’re not Muckleshoot,” Laura said. “We’re Navajo.”

The hit-and-run accident that took Rachel’s life remains unsolved.

“It’s still an open case, but leads have run dry,” Sumner Detective James Temple said. “We hope guilt is wearing away at somebody. We need help from the public or someone involved.”

Rachel’s family has moved on.

“We’re not seeking vengeance. We’ve forgiven whoever did this,” Laura said. “That person has to live with it the rest of their lives.

“What we want now is to bring awareness to those who haven’t registered as organ donors. Rachel would support that.”