To her family, Riley Kogen was a blessing.
“She was just like an angel,” Riley’s mother, Ali, said of her daughter. “She was a spunky ball of energy. She loved to dance, she loved to laugh. Honestly, I don’t remember ever seeing her cry.”
After suffering from a seizure in the middle of the night in December of last year, Riley died. She had turned five a few days before. While Riley was in the hospital, her family was approached by the NJ Sharing Network. Her family decided that Riley would be an organ donor.
“We felt like we wanted to memorialize her,” Ali said. “We thought that this might be her purpose. (Her donation) is keeping other people alive.”
The Kogen family has kept a strong relationship with the Sharing Network, a non-profit organ procurement and donation promotion organization. They founded the family fund Riley’s Dance, a charity that assists people awaiting a life-saving organ donation, or who have recently received one, under the Sharing Network.
In just 11 months of operation, they have already collected over $100,000 in donations, the family said.
Thursday, the young girl was memorialized again, this time using flowers.
About 300 family members and friends attended a floragraph ceremony Thursday that saw the girl’s parents putting the finishing touches on a depiction of Riley made completely from flowers and other natural materials. The image will be a part of the Sharing Network’s float in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Calif.
Dignity Memorial, which operates the funeral home that handled Riley’s services, is sponsoring her inclusion on the memorial, and the family’s trip to Pasadena for the parade.
“We are honored to be able to commemorate Riley’s life and her family’s decision to reach beyond their grief to help others with this amazing gift,” Michael Steffaro, Director of Dignity Memorial, said in a release about the sponsorship.
NJ Sharing Network representatives said Riley’s kidney donations saved the lives of two women. One of them, Omayra Candelaria, a Long Branch woman, attended the ceremony.
“Tonight is a time to celebrate the life and legacy of Riley. It is a time for tears and also a time for love and laughter,” NJ Sharing Network Foundation Executive Director Elisse Glennon said in a release about the event.
“Her legacy will indeed be an inspiration to the thousands of people across the country who will be watching the Rose Parade.”