In July 2009 Tom and Kim Aagard received a sympathy letter in the mail from LifeSource, a non-profit organization focusing on organ, eye and tissue donation, with condolences on their son Tommy’s passing. Included in the letter were the details about the transplant recipients who received a second chance of life because of Tommy’s generous gift. In the list of recipients was a Minnesota man. “A 59-year-old man received the gift of Thomas’s heart. This recipient is married, lives in Minnesota and is a father,” the letter read.
Stephanie Larson, a young mother of two, has worked at Tri-County Health Care since 2003. After having a cardiac arrest in October 2011, at the age of 32 she was able to recover and receive a new heart in September 2012. Because of her personal experience, she volunteers to raise awareness in the Wadena area about organ and tissue donation. She suggested a LifeSource exhibit at TCHC’s February Festival of Health. She asked her friend Bill Carlson, of Minnetonka, to help her with the booth. She had met Bill when she was staying in the hospital at the University of Minnesota ICU after her transplant. They hit it off immediately. Stephanie said, “He came in often to check in to give me support. He was a constant for me during my time and my transplant.” Bill had lain in the exact bed in Room 3503 back in 2009 as Stephanie did in 2012 – when he received his own heart transplant.
Kim was working at the 2014 February Festival of Health and she approached the LifeSource booth. Kim spotted a sign that read “My Donor” with a photo of her son Tommy underneath. Looking back on that moment, Kim describes it as surreal. There, standing behind the table, was Bill.
Kim said, “I picked up the photo and looked at Bill and said, ‘This is a photo of my son Tommy.’” Bill recalled that he was so nervous that he didn’t know how to respond to Kim. “It was like all of a sudden you’re meeting a sister that you never had,” he said. Because of the impact of meeting Kim, Bill couldn’t finish working at the event and Stephanie stepped in for him.
He called his wife immediately and told her, “‘I just met Tommy’s mom.’ My wife could tell by my voice that I was very emotional about it, and she asked if I’d be able to drive back home to Minnetonka.”
Meanwhile, Kim had left the event to call her husband and tell him what had happened. She asked if Tom wanted to come to the event and meet Bill. At first Tom was unsure, and the two hung up. But less than 10 minutes later Kim’s phone rang and Tom said, “It’s meant to be. I’m on my way to meet you both.” For the next couple of hours, the three sat and talked.
Today, as Kim, Bill and Stephanie sit together reciting their fate-filled story filled with tears and smiles, Bill explains a saying they recite in his weekly support group. “‘Live your life everyday like your donor is watching. Treat this life with the utmost respect to the gift that was given to you by them.’ I will thank Tommy every day of my life.”
- Register at the DMV or online: https://www.dmv.org/organ-donor.php
- Donate Life Website: https://www.donatelifemidwest.org/mn/