HomeHealthHeart recipient rides float in Rose Parade to honor his donor

Heart recipient rides float in Rose Parade to honor his donor

By Randall Yip, AsAmNews Executive Editor

65-year-old Ted Jung never met 18-year-old Joe Barrett, but the two will be forever linked.

Barrett died when he was struck and killed by a hit and run driver in 2020 in Concord, CA. Just a few weeks earlier, Barrett had checked the box on his driver’s license application indicating he would be willing to donate his organs. It’s a decision that likely saved Jung’s life.

On Monday, Jung joined other organ recipients on a Rose Parade float in Pasadena to raise awareness about organ donations and to pay homage to Barrett and his family.

It was a journey that started with Jung in a San Francisco hospital on Christmas, New Year’s and beyond- a total of 72 days waiting patiently for a heart.

“You got to have similar body size, blood type, a lot of other things. It was very fortunate that I was able to get a match. The odds of getting one are pretty, pretty slight,” Jung told AsAmNews.

Throughout the process, he and his family tried to keep an even keel. They never asked if there were potential donors out there that were ultimately rejected for one reason or another. He couldn’t stand to know.

“It’s not good for your mental psyche of every day you wake up, and it doesn’t happen. So you know, in my case, I just stayed even keel try to get to a routine every day was the same.”

Finally, doctors informed him that they had a heart and rushed him into surgery on Valentine’s Day, which also happened to be Donor Awareness Day.

Barrett’s mom Leslie said it didn’t surprise her that her son offered to donate his organs.

“It’s typical Joe, thinking of others first,” Leslie Barratt said to AsAmNews. “First, he was a very giving person. He was a very loving person. And that’s just something that Joe would have done.”

Donor Network West which facilitated the transplant says very few people make the same decision as Joe. They say the chances of anyone becoming a donor is less than 1% not only because of the small number of willing donors, but also because of the stringent requirements that must be met to be a match.

Ted Jung and Family in China
Ted Jung and family. Provided by Ted Jung

When someone does decide to donate their organs, they can save as many as eight lives donating multiple organs. In Joe’s case, he also donated his kidneys, liver, tendons and ligaments.

“The chances of someone who needs an organ like Ted from an Asian American background, is much stronger, if your donor is of the same background, it less chances for rejection, it’s just a stronger and better match for everybody involved,” said Stephanie Ruvalcaba, spokeswoman for Donor Network West.

Jung’s donor was not Asian, but perhaps their similar body types played in his favor. He considers himself fortunate.

There’s an underrepresentation of minority donors in the pool with Blacks and Hispanic donors the least represented and Asian American donors behind the number of White donors.

“I think that’s what Donor Network West tries to kind of educate and combat all of the myths and misconceptions out there, one of the ones we hear the most, especially in communities of minority communities are doctors will not save my life, if they see that I’ve checked that box. And that is a very, very common myth,” said Ruvalcaba.

Death remains a taboo topic in American culture, something Barrett hopes to change.

“People don’t like talking about death, or about organ donation, it’s a very uncomfortable subject,” she said. “And I think the more that people start talking about it, and getting more information, the easier it will be.”

Donor Network West says most donor families never meet the organ recipient. Even more rare is the donor from the same area as the recipient. Both Jung and Barrett are from the San Francisco Bay Area.

The non-profit asked Jung if he would be interested in contacting his donor family. He immediately said yes, but it took him six months to find the right words to put in a letter.

“When you’re the recipient of something like that, you know, you’re almost speechless,” Jung said. “You know, the letter I wrote to her was that we were on two ends of a spectrum of a rainbow. Right? She was giving one and I was receiving one, you know, so that’s why I always give her way more credit. You know, what, what am I? I’m nothing. I’m just a recipient of her sacrifice and her family sacrifice and Joe’s sacrifice.”

Barrett didn’t respond to Jung’s letter for another year. She admits it was a difficult letter to read.

“When I got Ted’s letter, you know, it was nice to finally cry tears of happiness rather than tears of sorrow,” she said. “It was genuine. It was grateful. And it’s interesting because from what I’m told only 3% of donors recipients actually meet.”

Barrett wanted to meet Jung and eventually responded to his letter with her contact information. He immediately texted her and the two talked over the phone before agreeing to meet.

“I wanted to meet him. I mean, I got to hear my son’s heartbeat again, literally. It’s very powerful.”

Ted Jung is with Janice Whaley, CEO of Donor Network West and Leslie Barratt, the donor's mother.
Ted Jung is with Janice Whaley, CEO of Donor Network West and Leslie Barratt, the donor’s mother. Photo provided by Donor Network West

The two have met several times since, including at the Rose Parade where she watched from the grandstand with two of her son’s best friends. They’ve also appeared at community functions together promoting donor awareness.

Floragraph of Joe Barratt, Ted Jung's heart donor
Floragraph of Joe Barratt, Ted Jung’s heart donor. Photo provided by Donor Network West

The float that Jung rode on featured a floragraph of her son. It was based on a photo she provided. The two even put the finishing touches on it, with the two completing Joe’s eyebrows.

“It just seems it’s an honor,” she said. “It seems like everything’s come full circle. It’s amazing. It’s emotional. It’s beautiful.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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