Written by Zoe Engels, Blog Contributor
Haley Brown, President and Founder of SODA at the University of Florida (UF), has been passionate about organ donation advocacy work for as long as she can remember.
In 1993, before Haley was born, her parents had a son, Michael, who tragically passed away at seven weeks old due to sudden infant death syndrome.
“My parents saw a poster for organ donation in the hospital and they were like, ‘We want to do that. We want to donate his organs,’” Haley said during a Zoom call.
And so, they did. While his kidneys were too small, they were able to donate his heart, corneas, and lungs. Haley describes this experience as changing her parents’ lives because they “got to see the light out of something dark.”
In elementary school, a friend of Haley’s received a kidney transplant, which successfully extended her friend's life by years, and Haley saw that “time is the most precious thing.”
These experiences and this knowledge inspired Haley to get involved in organ donation advocacy and education initiatives. Having also been born into a family of organ donation advocates, Haley began volunteering and helping OurLegacy, her local Organ Procurement Organization (OPO), at a young age. The Brown family was even flown out to California for the Rose Parade in 2019. There, Michael’s legacy was honored; his photograph was displayed on the Donate Life Rose Parade Float, which they helped decorate as they met other organ donation families.
Help bring SODA to the Rose Parade in 2023! Learn how you can help at sodanational.org/roseparade.
Haley first learned about SODA in 2021 when her mom sent her a social media post from OurLegacy announcing a new SODA chapter at the University of Central Florida. Haley was immediately intrigued. Upon doing some research, she realized that UF didn’t have a SODA chapter, so she gathered a group of friends and applied to start SODA at UF, which became an official chapter in March 2021.
Does your school already have a SODA chapter? Find out here!
Haley’s favorite event has been a collaboration between Gift of Life Marrow Registry and SODA at UF last semester. She describes it as a two-in-one tabling event because everyone worked together to register students as bone marrow and organ donors. They played music and set up a prize wheel to catch students’ eyes and encourage them to stop and spin for some organ donation-related gear. Through this event, they were able to register many students as bone marrow and organ donors.
At events like these, she also enjoys talking to students and hearing their perspectives, including those who might be against organ donation at first and believe the myth that doctors won’t work as hard to save them. She often “hands people the facts” through a myth-busting pamphlet. SODA has helped her see that there are still many people who are hesitant about donation, which makes organ donation education even more important.
Haley, now a third-year accounting student at UF also pursuing a certificate in artificial intelligence, knows organ donation advocacy will continue to be part of her life well after she graduates. This coming summer, she will be working as an intern in the auditing department at an accounting firm in Fort Lauderdale, and, looking toward the future, she hopes to get her CPA license, work in public accounting before moving to private or corporate accounting. Wherever the future takes her, she plans to join a local OPO and volunteer.
“I’ll be an advocate for life,” she said.
If you’re also a passionate advocate for organ donation and are interested in joining a college or high school nonprofit, sign up to host a SODA event or start a chapter on our Students webpage.