Pay It 4ward: Balloon Fiesta pilot honored for spreading organ donation awareness

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – During Balloon Fiesta, KOB 4 introduced you to three families who had an emotional reunion

Chelsea Valladares and Kelli Ingle were killed in a car crash last April. Their families gathered at Balloon Fiesta Park last week with the Marshalls.

31-year-old Kristen Marshall is alive today thanks to Ingle’s decision to be an organ donor. It’s safe to say that Kristen’s life would not have been saved without awareness for organ donation.

But there’s someone else who was with the Marshalls at Balloon Fiesta who also needs some recognition– the pilot who took them up! 

This week’s Pay It 4ward surprise required a wake-up call well before sunrise at Balloon Fiesta Park.

“We are out on this beautiful morning to celebrate and honor somebody who has gone above and beyond to help promote organ and tissue donation,” said Ron Ruybal Pay It 4ward nominator. 

Ruybal with New Mexico Donor Services says their balloon’s pilot, Rick Ferrall, has taken the cause to new heights.

This year, he gave free rides to nearly a hundred organ donors, recipients and their families – before fiesta even started.

“On his basket, we have a QR code that people can scan and register to be an organ tissue donor,” Ruybal said. 

Through Ferrall’s efforts, Ruybal says more than 50 people filled out their papers.

Now, he wants to give back to the man who traveled nearly 1,400 miles to help spread the word about life-saving donations.

“They come all the way from Atlanta, Georgia. And, you know, the trip in itself is a little bit expensive to come all the way out here. So I hope he enjoys it and takes that and honors him and his family and his crew,” said Ruybal. 

After a brief walk across a very dark, pre-dawn balloon fiesta field, we finally found who we were looking for.

“We really want to honor you and thank you and your amazing family, and we have a little bit of a gift for you. As this Pay it 4ward, you receive $400 as a gift to honor and thank you for your time and effort this week. Thank you.”

“We don’t do it for this. We do it to share it,” said Ferrall. “I’ve been an organ donor for I don’t remember how long how many years, and so I believe in it, and I think it’s something that you pay it forward. You know, you give somebody else a chance at life.”

We asked what he plans to do with the $400. 

“More than likely we’ll just donate it to something because, Pay It 4ward, because that’s what should be done,” said Rick.