Dedication solidifies Garden of Hope as memorial for organ donors and recipients

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By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist


Lois Miller recognizes the organizations and individuals who contributed to the creation of the Garden of Hope. They include the Deer Creek Lions, Wadena Lions, Wadena Rotary, the Browne Foundation and Wadena State Bank, Larry and Judy Spenst, Nellie Wegscheid, Trails 4 Transplants, James and Barbara Swenson, Lamson Trust of First Congregational United Church of Christ, Tri-County Health Care Foundation, Tri-County Health Care Auxiliary and Tri-County Health Care staff.

On Tuesday, April 3, Tri-County Health Care and more than 60 donor families, transplant recipients, TCHC employees and members of the public gathered for a Donate Life flag raising and Garden of Hope dedication. Even though a thick layer of snow covered the ground, Lois Miller, organ/tissue donation project lead, was confident that it didn’t dampen spirits as donor families, recipients and those touched by organ donation shared their stories.


Garden of Hope

TCHC first unveiled the Garden of Hope, built by Youngbauer Landscaping on the Wesley Hospital lawn, last year during the annual TCHC Block Party on July 18. One by one, engraved pavers in honor of organ donors and recipients will be added to the outside of the garden.

Surrounded by protective trees and a peaceful lawn, the garden encourages people to stop and reflect by providing a large bench and a variety of beautiful plants. Lois hopes that it can give visitors a place to rest and a change of scenery from the clinic waiting rooms.

TCHC’s Donate Life flag also found a home in the new garden. The Kelderman family raised the flag at the ceremony on April 3, and it will fly over the garden throughout the month of April to celebrate the thousands of donors and recipients.


Heart transplant recipient Stephanie Larson (middle) met her donor’s family, Art and Christine Schulenberg, for the first time.

Heart transplant recipient Stephanie Larson (middle) met her donor’s family, Art and Christine Schulenberg, for the first time.

Donors save lives

More than 117,000 people nationwide are currently waiting for organ/tissue transplants, and that number rises every day. In fact, the numbers on the waiting list are much higher than the number of donors and transplants available. One person can donate up to eight lifesaving organs – heart, two kidneys, liver, pancreas, two lungs and intestines – as well as other valuable tissue.

Eva Geiser of Bluffton encourages everyone, whether they’ve been touched by organ donation or not, to register as a donor. She and her husband purchased two Garden of Hope pavers, one for her father, a living donor, and one for her brother-in-law’s family in his memory.

“I thought the garden was a good idea and nice way to honor people who have donated their organs. I think it will bring more awareness [to organ donation],” Eva said. “People should sign up to be organ donors. Why not? I can’t think of a reason not to.”

The Kelderman family raises the Donate Life flag, which will fly over the Garden of Hope to honor organ donors and recipients.

The Kelderman family raises the Donate Life flag, which will fly over the Garden of Hope to honor organ donors and recipients.


Steps to becoming a donor

Signing up to be an organ/tissue donor is relatively simple, and yet it has the potential to save lives. Here’s how it works:

  1. Make the commitment to be a donor.
  2. Visit or register in person at your local DMV. If you are a Minnesota resident, you can also register online when purchasing a hunting or fishing license through the DNR.
  3. Tell your family of your decision so they can support your wishes.


Share in the legacy

If your family has been touched by organ donation, or if you know someone who has, the Garden of Hope gives you an opportunity to create a memorial by purchasing a paver or by making a donation toward the garden’s preservation. Pavers will be added on an ongoing basis and can be ordered at any time.

Brochures and paver order forms are available at Tri-County Health Care entrances or can be obtained from Lois Miller at 218-631-7485 or A plaque in the garden will recognize those who have made a financial donation.

“To Be A Hero”, by Sam Kelderman

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By Guest Blogger: Kandi Kelderman

April 2017

I shouldn’t have worried. Seriously, what outcome has ever been changed by worry?

Kelderman brothers: Zack, Tate & Sam

April is Donate Life Month. Also, this week marks what would have been Sam’s 19th birthday. We still celebrate Sam’s day. Why? In part, because Sam chose to outlive himself. Let me explain.

On average, 123 thousand people are waiting for a transplant nationwide. 3,700 of these waiting people are in our 4-state area (MN, SD, ND, Eastern WI). 63% of registered drivers in Minnesota have chosen to “Outlive Themselves” and check the donor box when renewing their licenses or by registering online. Every day, 21 people die due to the donor shortage. Up to 60 people can be saved/helped by the generosity of one donor.

Last month, I spoke to a room full of emergency professionals. I showed them Baby, Sam’s fireman doll, who kept Sam company and safe while his brothers were at school or during nap time. Baby was Sam’s first hero. The EMTs, firemen and officers that responded to Sam’s car accident, are our heroes.

“Baby”, Sam’s fireman doll.

So, what does this have to do with my worry? I couldn’t (and still can’t) find my notes from that last presentation. I had planned on using those notes for this post and was all wrapped up on worry about locating them. Searching the same box of papers for the umpteenth time, I came across something MUCH better; an essay Sam had written 4 months before he died. I hadn’t read it before. There was no need for this mere-mortal mom to worry. Sam did my work for me. Here is his essay…

September 2015
To Be A Hero
by Sam Kelderman

To me, a hero is anyone who can make a good impact on someone else or even something else, such as the environment or your country.

A hero can be a police officer, fireman or even the mailman. They don’t have to be like a superhero in a costume or have their own title. A hero can be anyone. You may not think about it, but you could’ve been a hero before and you didn’t realize it.

Sam’s 4×200 WDC Relay Team

Doing even little things can make a BIG impact, such as picking up others’ trash or putting a quarter in a parking meter that’s going to run out of time. You might not think it’s a big deal, but to the recipient, it is a big deal. They might be thankful for what you have done for them.

You don’t have to be all special and have super powers to be a hero. I’m talking about the ones you see on TV or in comic books. They seem to be so special because they have powers and the ability to fly or do something spectacular. They dress up in tights, capes and supersuits. You don’t have to be all fancy and wear funny costumes to be a hero. You don’t have to have special powers or abilities. A hero can be any person.

Another type of hero is a firefighter who helps someone or something get out of a burning house or a hole they fell into. Someone who is willing to sacrifice their own life is a hero to me. An officer could also be a hero. They can help by stopping crazy drivers on the road to keep others safe.There are heroes all around you that you haven’t recognized.

All over the world there are heroes. You can even be a hero by helping with little things. Being a hero can be hard, but also it can be easy. Don’t you think it is worth the reward of trust, respect or just listening to people talk good about you? When you hear people talking, don’t you feel all good inside?

To get to the point, being a hero doesn’t mean you have to be famous and have all the world know you. You can be a secret hero and just be anonymous. A hero to me can be anyone who helps others or the world.

I couldn’t have said it better. Heroes sometimes wear badges and boots. Heroes check the donor box. Heroes outlive themselves. Thanks for writing this for me Sam.

On Jan 22, 2016, Sam Kelderman died in a car accident on his way to go ice fishing with friends. He was a junior at Wadena-Deer Creek High School and loved track, football, snowmobiling and anything mechanical.
Sam checked the donor box at 16. His plans were to attend the University of North Dakota to study engineering.

A track meet “The Sam Kelderman Invite’ is May 4 at Wadena-Deer Creek Track. See all the details at the bottom of this post.

Kandi & Darren working the Donate Life booth at Men’s Night Out.

About the guest blogger: Sam’s parents, Darren and Kandi, are active with LifeSource (Donate Life) and speak with Drivers’ Ed. classes, youth groups, churches and other organizations about donation. Contact them at (218)639-1855 for more information.

Go to to register to become a donor.






Tri-County Honors Organ, Tissue and Eye Donors and Recipients with Flag-Raising Ceremony

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Donate Life Flag-Raising Ceremony

The Donate Life Flag is being flown at Tri-County Health Care during the month of April to honor local organ and tissue donors, their families and recipients. The display is part of a national initiative, Flags Across America, designed to honor and celebrate the hundreds of thousands of donors and recipients whose lives have been affected by organ, eye and tissue donation. Locally, Tri-County Health Care partners with LifeSource, to support families at the end-of-life and offer the opportunity of organ and tissue donation.

To honor those local donor families and recipients, a flag-raising ceremony was held on April 5 at Tri-County Health Care. Special guests included Donna Grendahl, whose son was a heart transplant recipient. Also speaking was Barb Nelson-Agnew, Hospital liaison for LifeSource, spoke that a donation by one person can save and heal up to 60 lives through organ, eye and tissue donation.

Jim & Barb Swenson


Tri-County Chief Financial Officer Kim Aagard, who’s the mother of a donor, shared a poem written by heart recipient Jim Swenson, from Willmar, MN. He wrote it shortly after his transplant in 2004 to recognize donors and donor families for the selfless gift of donation.  As he shared, “It’s just my way of trying to put into words how I feel.”



The unexpected knock, the unexpected call.

The tired saddened doctor’s face seemed to say it all.

Everything had been done, your heart sank at the sound.

And now you finally knew, your loved one was down.


As you learned the unwanted truth, there was nothing more to do

Your emotions took flight to say, now how do we make it through.

Your loved one didn’t plan it, as you face this awful strife

But now you face the question, do you give the gift of life.


Though your sorrow cannot be measured, our thanks is great indeed.

For donors are the heroes we thought we’d never need.

And donors are the heroes we never got to know.

They’ve lost it all, but in that loss they gave life the greatest gift of all.

TCHC President/CEO Joel Beiswenger

“Today, 119,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list, and 22 of them will die today for lack of an organ. We encourage our community members to join with Tri-County to help save lives through a national campaign to encourage people to register to become organ donors,” said Joel Beiswenger, Tri-County Health Care President and CEO, who also spoke at the ceremony. Kim Aagard and Donna Grendahl, raised the flag at the conclusion of the program. Around 40 donor families, transplant recipients, friends and the public gathered for the presentation and flag raising.

Across the nation, thousands of Donate Life flags will be flown and displayed throughout the month of April – National Donate Life Month. In addition to this initiative, Tri-County Health Care offers donor families the option of flying the flag at the hospital, during their loved one’s donation event, in a show of support and to honor their loved one’s memory. If you are interested in learning more about organ and tissue donation, please visit:

Donate Life: Leaving a lasting legacy

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Kim Aagard

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.”

L-R: Bill, Kim and Stephanie



*This story was originally published in the March 2017 edition of Tri-County Health Care’s Healthy Times. To read this article, and the other articles, click here.

Organ Donation – Personal Testimony

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donatelifeWhen I was younger, I never really thought about how I would die. As I became a teenager and then into my 20’s, I was invincible and did not think I would die. When I was 32, I in fact did die.
No 32-year-old healthy person without a family history of illness thinks they will suffer a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). That’s what I thought until the dreaded night in October. On October 22, 2011 my perspective changed forever. When a person suffers from a SCA, the chances of surviving are slim. A person must receive help within 10 minutes or permanent damage can occur, and most likely will die. I was one of the very fortunate ones that survived. Had I been anywhere else that night, I could easily have become a statistic. Instead, I am humbled to be a survivor. The road to recovery was long, but, well worth it.
My health had failed me, but with the great technology of today’s time I was able to have a Left Ventricular Assistive Device (LVAD) placed. This device kept me alive and would sustain me, but not heal me. Along the way, I learned that if I wanted to try to resume a “normal” life, I needed a heart transplant. The surgeon would take my old heart out and give me a new one. Sounds like a simple and obvious decision, but really it was the hardest decision I have EVER had to make.
Stephanie with her family

Stephanie with her family

I needed a new heart, but that meant that someone would have to die for me to get another chance at life. All I could think about was the family. How would they be able to give such a great gift at a time when they are grieving and trying to figure out how to say goodbye to their loved one? It was hard, but with prayer, guidance and education I was finally able to find peace in knowing that yes, someone would die, but in their death they were giving the greatest gift anyone could give…LIFE! With a heart transplant, I would be able to live a new life. I would be able to raise my two beautiful children together with my loving husband. And, I would be able to be here today to ask you to be an organ donor.
On Thursday, April 2 I was part of our flag raising ceremony at Tri-County Health Care in honor of organ, eye and tissue donors. It was such a privilege and honor to share my story that morning. I hope my story reminds everyone that we all have that ability to help others. I invite you to check the box and let your intentions be known. You can check the box knowing that at a time when you are no longer able to be here on this earth, someone else can have a chance to enjoy it a little longer. What a great gift!

For more information about organ, eye and tissue donation and how you can become a donor, go to
About the Author:
Stephanie Larson, RN, is the Tri-County Health Care Hospital Epic Optimizer. Her job includes managing the Electronic Medical Record for Tri-County. She has been an asset in this role for approximately seven months. Stephanie is also an RN and has been with the organization in a patient care capacity striving for excellent patient care since 2006. During her tenure, Stephanie has worked in many areas including surgery and as a med/surg nurse. Stephanie received her heart transplant on September 16, 2012 and has been an advocate for Donate Life, Go Red for Women and many other organizations since her Sudden Cardiac Arrest on October 22, 2011.