This story is from the archives of UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Rose Parade tribute to a Bruin who saved lives

Molly Noble’s heart belonged to UCLA from the time she was in the fifth grade although she knew her divorced mother probably couldn’t afford the tuition. So Molly, whip-smart, worked twice as hard to ensure she would be awarded scholarships. And it paid off.

D664A MollyNoble
Molly Noble
In 2001, she graduated as valedictorian of her Rio Linda High School class and entered UCLA as a National Merit Scholar and a UC Regents Scholar. “It was her dream ever since she was little to go to UCLA, and that dream came true,” said her mother Dorothy Noble-Fairbairn.

Although Molly came close to donning a mortarboard and walking with her classmates at Commencement, sadly, she didn’t make it. The story of what she gave back to UCLA and to the recipients of five of her donated organs will be one of the 72 such stories honored New Year’s Day on the 2013 Rose Parade Donate Life float that will carry her picture in flowers.

Riding on the same float will be Vicky Nguyen, 28, a recipient of two liver transplants performed at UCLA by Dr. Ronald Busuttil, chairman of the Department of Surgery and chief of liver and pancreas transplantation. Nguyen is one of 32 organ and tissue recipients picked to participate in the 2013 Rose Parade. In addition, two award-winning UCLA nurses will be riding atop a Rose Parade float sponsored by national nursing organizations.

Molly’s gift of life

Although Molly was just three courses shy of graduating from UCLA, she decided to take a break from her studies to travel out east and think about what she wanted to do with her life, her mother said. Molly later returned to L.A. with the goal of finishing her college education. And the first step was to apply for a student loan and enroll in one of the courses she needed at a community college in Victorville in June 2009.

rendering of 2013 float
Rendering of 2013 Rose Parade Donate Life float.
But her overall goal, her mother said, was to finish her last two courses at UCLA in the fall. Then fate intervened. While grocery shopping, Noble fell. Not a serious accident, her mother first thought until she received a call from a neurologist at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center. A scan revealed a severe brain bleed, and Molly, at age 26, was in a coma from which she would not wake.

Although Molly had taken the bus everywhere in L.A., she had applied for a driver’s license two months before she collapsed. And, in another fateful move, she had checked the box for organ donation. So she was kept on a respirator for several days to allow her organs to be harvested. Her heart and a lung, transplanted at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, saved the lives of two gravely ill patients. Her kidneys and liver went to recipients elsewhere.
“They told me they had taken her heart and lung and flew them in a helicopter through the (July 4th)  fireworks to UCLA for transplant,” Noble-Fairbairn said. “We thought that was bittersweet and beautiful that her heart was going home to UCLA, the place she loved so much.”
Last year floragraph
A "floragraph" is prepared for last year's Donate Life float.
The university awarded Molly her degree in psychology posthumously, and it hangs together with a picture of the Powell Library — her daughter’s favorite building on campus — in Noble-Fairbairn’s home in Missouri.

On Jan. 1, Noble-Fairbairn will be front and center when the Donate Life float rolls by to see up close and personal the “floragraph” of her daughter. UCLA Health System, who sponsored Molly as an honoree on the float, is flying Noble-Fairbairn and her husband out to Pasadena so they can watch the parade from the grandstands.

“It’s a beautiful tribute to Molly, and a wonderful way to help raise awareness about the importance of organ donation,” Noble-Fairbairn said. “She not only saved the lives of the people who received her organs, she helped save and enrich the lives of the people she left behind.”

A critical message on New Year’s Day

Nguyen, a recipient of two donated livers, appreciates fully what Molly and others like her have given to extend the lives of so many.

Shortly after she was born, Nguyen was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a potentially fatal liver disorder. In 1986, just before turning 2, she became one of the first 30 patients to receive a liver transplant at UCLA. She underwent a second transplant in July 2000 when she was 16.

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Vicky Nguyen
Nguyen of West Los Angeles said her family will be eagerly watching the parade as well.
 “It’s pretty cool and a big honor that I get to ride on the Donate Life float this year,” she said. For the last four years, Nguyen has volunteered to decorate the Donate Life float; this time, she’s also supervising a decorating crew and working quality control.

Most of all, she’s excited about being able to spread the critical message worldwide that organ donation saves lives.

“One organ and tissue donor can save many lives, and there are people out there, people like myself, that really need transplants to stay alive,” she said. “I would say to anyone thinking about becoming a donor that you have my huge appreciation. And to all the donors out there, you truly are heroes.”
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