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.