Donate Life 2022: Kidneys and care

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Tri-County Health Care welcomed guests and donors to Donate Life 2022! Lois Miller, a Registered Nurse at Tri-County Health Care, organizes the event. The ceremony is the product of several months of organizing. Because of this, Lois takes great pride in the event and views it as a means of keeping organ donation in the minds of potential donors.

After a kickoff by Lois, LifeSource Representative Barb Nelson-Agnew took to the podium. She explained the importance of organ donation with the help of a special bee mascot. The bee danced and encouraged the crowd to sign up for organ donation. According to Nelson-Agnew, the bee represented the giving power of nature itself and was the perfect mascot to show how vital organ donation is. Cathy Dudley, a hospital liaison at Mayo Clinic, dawned the bee uniform. Tri-County Health Care was only one stop on her mission to get people to “bee a donor!”

The mascot was a fun aspect of Donate Life 2022

Dawn and Julia

This year’s ceremony included two speakers, Julia Snyder, a living organ donor, and Dawn Kemper, an organ donation recipient. The pair guided the small crowd through their personal journeys with organ donation.

Dawn Kemper participated in Donate Life 2022.

Dawn Kemper

In 2011, Dawn Kemper found out she suffered from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disease that causes cysts to form on the kidneys. In 2014, she contracted a kidney infection that placed her on dialysis. She was able to recover from the infection and get off dialysis. However, her hope was short-lived. In 2016, after meeting with a nephrologist, Dawn learned she might need to be placed back on dialysis due to her declining kidney health. According to her doctor, she was at 6 percent kidney health. Dawn needed a new kidney and quick. She was eventually contacted for a kidney transplant, but that opportunity fell through. After an emotional journey to receive this kidney, she found out the kidney went to another recipient who required multiple organs. “God had different plans,” said Dawn.

Julia is a living organ donor, which means she is willing to donate organs or tissues while still living. During her tearful speech, she explained that she had never suffered from any health complications in her life. Julia changed after the death of a close friend who was also an avid believer in organ donation. This friend was always trying to get others to check the little organ donation box. This loss made Julia an advocate for the cause.

Kidney swap

Later on, after a failed attempt to donate to her nephew, Julia found the National Pair Exchange for organ donation. This system helps recipients pair with donors faster after experiencing compatibility issues. Through this system, Julia and Dawn met. The pair participated in a cross transplant with an unknown donor in Georgia. Essentially, Snyder wanted to donate a kidney directly to Kemper, but they were incompatible. After this, Snyder donated a kidney to the individual in Georgia and Kemper received a kidney from the compatible donor. This process is also known as a “kidney swap.”

Julia Snyder commented on her journey during Donate Life 2022.

Julia Snyder

Donate and live better

“The most amazing part was watching Dawn become healthy again,” remarked Julia. Furthermore, the pair shared the hope that others will consider organ donation. In conclusion, guests draped the Donate Life flag from a railing above, Drawing Donate Life 2022 to a close.

To learn more about Tri-County Health Care’s Garden of Hope or how to become an organ donor, please visit

The gift of life: Become an organ donor today

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April is National Donate Life Month and it reminds us that we all hold the power to help others in life and in death. Tri-County Health Care staff and several guests gathered at the Garden of Hope to raise the Donate Life flag. Every year, those affected by organ donations raise the flag to honor those that gave everything for the health of others. The ceremony and the following proceedings are designed to motivate others to give the gift of life.

Tri-County Health Care has taken a stand for everyone in need of organ and tissue donation. According to LifeSource, an organization dedicated to facilitating organ donation, Tri-County Health Care’s 13 donors have helped over 975 people in six years.

Sarah couldn't help but tear up during her emotional speech during the ceremony.

“Events like this get people’s minds thinking about donation and spur them to register to be donors,” said Barb Nelson, from LifeSource.

Remembering Cameron

Sarah Fisher spoke during the ceremony. She drove from Horace, North Dakota to dedicate a paver to her son, Cameron, who lost his life in a car accident. Cameron was an organ donor and was passionate about helping others. His family wanted to amplify his goodwill to persuade others to give the gift of life.

“Without LifeSource, this process of organ donation and the grief that a parent goes through when they lose a child would have been unbearable,” said Sarah in a tearful address during the ceremony.

Sarah lost her son during the summer of 2018. Her son’s passing was a personal tragedy but because Cameron was an organ donor, he was able to save the lives of many. His heart, kidney, liver, corneas, bone tissue, and ligaments were all donated. Altogether, his donations helped 72 people and his bone and ligaments continue to be used. This motivated Sarah to spread the word of her son’s generosity to save more people. She is currently trying to have a Garden of Hope constructed in Fargo.

Sarah and her husband dedicated a paver to their son Cameron. He passed away after a car accident and was an organ donor.

The list

“Every day, there’s people who join the waiting list and every day, there’s people that die because they didn’t get that life-saving organ.” Said Sarah.

Before the pandemic, Sarah explained that she was able to meet some of the donation recipients. Those individuals had been waiting for so long and were very near death. When they got the call about Cameron’s passing, everything changed. They were saved. Sarah emotionally recounted meeting them and their families; she was overwhelmed by the good her son had done.

“What the gift of life means to us is that Cameron’s death meant something,” said Sarah.

The random act of kindness rock

Sarah and her husband have a robust web presence dedicated to spreading their son’s story. The couple has been hiding special rocks emblazoned with the Donate Life logo in various places worldwide. The random act of kindness rocks encourages others to become organ donors while telling Cameron’s story. Anyone that finds it is supposed to put a little good into the world. If you find one, do something nice for someone else in remembrance of Cameron and his giving spirit.

One of these rocks has been hidden near the Garden of Hope. Take a stroll and find the special stone. When you find it, please follow the instructions included and put some positive energy into the world.

The random act of kindness rock has been distributed around the world.



Organ donors and remembrance: Donate Life 2021

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The gift of life

Each year, community members and Tri-County Health Care staff gather near the garden of life for a special flag-raising ceremony. It’s a special time to honor those who committed to helping others. Donate Life celebrates organ donors and the people saved by their kindness. The ceremony was inspired by the work of LifeSource, a non-profit organization devoted to helping with organ donations. They continue to be a driving force behind the ceremony held at Tri-County Health Care. LifeSource helps people primarily in the upper Midwest.

Lois Miller

Organ donors. Tri-County Health Care platinum award recognition

Tri-County Health Care was honored to receive platinum recognition in 2020 for its efforts to promote organ donation in the community. From left: Kim Aagard, Stephanie Larson, Lois Miller, Tom Pint, and Joel Beiswenger.

Key organizer and Tri-County Health Care employee, Lois Miller, plans the event and organizes speakers. She recently took time to reflect on the flag raising and its significance to the community. “Inspiration to do more to promote donation went up when our Tri-County family became personally affected.  A Tri-County staff member’s life was saved because of a stranger’s selfless gift,” said Lois.

Since then, several staff members have stepped up and became organ donors. According to Lois, this push for new organ donors coincided with a community increase in organ donors. This surge in selflessness prompted a group of Tri-County Health Care employees and community members to propose a memorial garden. “A garden represents life and hope and serves as an inspiration to others to consider organ and tissue donation,” explained Lois. She has observed the apprehension and joy associated with the topic and urges everyone to consider the lifesaving choice.

Event Details

The Donate Life flag-raising ceremony is set for Tuesday, April 6, at 9 a.m. The ceremony will begin with a welcome from Tri-County Health Care President & CEO Joel Beiswenger. Additionally, LifeSource representative Barb Nelson-Agnew will speak. Guest speaker Sarah Fisher plans to share her story and the two pavers will be dedicated. The ceremony will end with the flag-raising.Organ donors. Tri-County Health Care platinum award recognition

Sarah Fisher

The ceremony welcomes speakers that have experienced organ donation firsthand. This year, Sarah Fisher will join us to share her son’s story. His death and subsequent organ donation saved many lives. This experience made Sarah an advocate for organ and tissue donation. She is currently trying to get a Donate Life garden built in Fargo. Sarah has a paver in our garden honoring the giving spirit of her son.

A place in our garden

It is possible to purchase a paver to honor an organ donor. More information is available at Tri-County Health Care entrances and on our website. There will be a special sign-up event at the entrance of the hospital after the flag-raising.


Close to her heart

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By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist


Minnesota, October 2011

While enjoying an evening out with friends, Stephanie suffered cardiac arrest in October of 2011, after which a mechanical pump was implanted to keep her heart beating. Photo of heart donor, Ben SchulenburgShe was put on the heart transplant list, and by May, she had moved the top. If she didn’t receive a heart, she’d be resigned to live with the pump for the rest of her days.


Michigan, September 2012

It was a beautiful fall day when 24-year-old Ben Schulenburg decided to take a motorcycle ride with a couple buddies after work. Just as they started heading home, a vehicle turned in front of him. He slid the bike to avoid a collision, but he hit the pavement and his head impacted the back tire. At the hospital, his parents, Art and Christine, learned that he would never wake up again.


Choosing the gift of life

With Ben’s body being sustained by life support, the doctors told the Schulenburgs about the option of donating Ben’s organs.

“He hadn’t even thought about (being an organ donor),” Christine said. “There was just no doubt in our minds that we would do this because it gave life.”

“It was kind of a no-brainer when we knew what the result was going to be,” Art added. “Ben was in excellent health, very physically fit. As far as we knew, there were no health problems at all, so why waste perfectly good organs when they could benefit other people?”Heart Donor - Ben's Grave

Art and Christine agreed to the organ donation and gave their son a final goodbye.

On Sept. 16, Ben’s heart beat for the last time in his chest before it was carefully removed and sent to Minnesota. Surgeons then placed it into Stephanie, where it began pumping new life.


Part of the healing process

After her transplant, Stephanie knew she wanted to reach out to her donor’s family, but she wasn’t quite ready. However, on Jan. 1, 2013, she got a call from LifeSource saying she had a letter from the family.

“What! I couldn’t believe it just because of all the holidays,” Stephanie said. The representative assured her she didn’t have to accept it right away, but Stephanie replied, “Nope, send it. I’m ready.”

Even though this was Art and Christine’s first time experiencing the holidays without their son, they decided it was the perfect time to reach out to the people who had received Ben’s organs.

“Yes, it was maybe very soon, but it just was the right timing,” Christine said. “We were still in that grieving process, but it was an opportunity to just be part of that healing process for us. The gift of life encouraged us.”


Heart donor family meets the recipient of their son's heart, Stephanie.Hearts collide

A couple weeks ago, Stephanie and the Schulenburgs had an opportunity to meet at the dedication of TCHC’s Garden of Hope on April 3. They chose to meet the day before so that they could soak in the moment.

“They called me and they said they were on their way. Of course the weather was horrible, so they were behind,” Stephanie said. “I was kind of anxious about getting their call.”

They decided to meet at the AmericInn where the Schulenburgs were staying. Art and Christine were sitting in the lobby when Stephanie and her husband, Jesse, arrived.

“I was emotional, but it was happy emotions,” Stephanie said. “Some people when they meet for the first time, it brings up all the emotions, and I think that it’s important that they had done their grieving and I had done my grieving in our ways so that we were at a good point in both of our lives in terms of acceptance.”

Christine echoed Stephanie’s sentiments. “When we first met Stephanie, I was expecting that it would be more emotional than it was,” she said. “Her hug said much more than words could say. It was a very special moment.”

Time was lost to the two couples as they chatted, shared pictures, and reminisced.Heart Donor, Ben Schulenburg

During the Garden of Hope dedication ceremony the next day, Ben was one of fifteen donors named and honored. Art and Christine said they were moved by the personal touch. They purchased a paver to be engraved with Ben’s name and added to the outside of the garden.

“Ben loved life,” Christine recalled. “He was always off doing something he loved. He was involved in sports, indoor soccer, CrossFit, and he loved the Lord.”

Six of Ben’s other life-saving or life-changing organs went to individuals in need. Including Stephanie, the Schulenburgs have made contact with four recipients.

“We found it very comforting and important that Stephanie was also a person of faith,” Christine said. “With the other donors, sharing our faith and the faith that Ben had was just the top priority. We just saw that God was using our tragedy to bring good into other people’s lives and that’s certainly part of our healing process and grieving process.”

A mother’s love: organ donation saves son’s life

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Today, Feb. 14, is National Organ Donor Day. It’s meant to raise awareness about the lives that can be saved through organ donation. It holds a special place in my heart because last year, I donated a kidney to my son, Mark.

Donate Day - Donate Life Ribbon

A blanket was given to Holly by the University of Minnesota with the donation ribbon and date of the transplant.

Dealing with a disease

Mark was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Wegener’s Granulomatosis at the age of 12, which causes inflammation of your blood vessels. He spent nearly a

month at the Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. There, he had IV medications, high doses of steroids, immunosuppressants, multiple procedures, X-rays/scans, blood transfusions and lab tests, as well as visits from more providers and specialists than I could count on my fingers and toes. We were told that we came very close to losing him.

While in the hospital, there was some discussion that Mark may need to start dialysis due to the damage his kidneys received from Wegener’s. However, with time and medications, his kidneys rallied and function improved.

We were told there was a good chance that the damage to his kidneys could lead to the need for a kidney transplant in the future. With any luck, we hoped that day would never come. However, in the spring of 2015, approximately 10 years after his diagnosis, Mark’s nephrologist (kidney specialist) said it was time. He was referred to the University of Minnesota to see if he was a candidate for a kidney transplant.


Finding a donor

For me, there was no question. I wanted my son to have as “normal” of a life as possible and was very hopeful that we could avoid the need for dialysis. So I signed up to be evaluated at the U of M to see if I was a match. The initial transplant evaluation consisted of MULTIPLE blood tests, urine studies, a chest X-ray, EKG, MRI of my kidneys, as well as consulting with my transplant coordinator, social services staff, dieticians, nephrologists and a transplant surgeon.

About a week after the evaluation, I got a call from my transplant coordinator who told me that I was a match! I was excited and, to be honest, scared at the same time! I

A photo of Holly and her son, Mark, as they see each other for the first time after the organ donation transplant procedure.

Holly and her son, Mark, see each other for the first time after the transplant procedure.

was the one who called Mark to let him know that I was a match. He was speechless and surprised, but we were both so relieved.


Working through setbacks

Unfortunately, before the transplant could be scheduled, Mark became ill, and his kidneys failed. He was admitted to St. Cloud Hospital and started on dialysis.

The transplant was scheduled for March 17, 2016, but because Mark had a rough several months leading up to it, where he was hospitalized multiple times with pneumonia and pericarditis, the transplant was cancelled. The U of M Infectious Disease Department checked Mark to be sure he did not have an infection or disease that could cause risks during surgery or possibly even rule him out as a kidney transplant candidate.

Thankfully, he was cleared by the specialist, and we were back on track for the transplant.

In the spring of 2016, Mark’s Wegener’s Granulomatosis came back and attacked his intestines and lungs. After another hospital stay, which consisted of high doses of steroids and Rituxan infusions, Wegener’s went back into remission. The U of M required that Mark be in remission for six months before he could be approved again for the transplant.


A successful ending

Finally, Mark was approved for the kidney transplant. We both repeated the transplant evaluation and were approved. The transplant was scheduled for June 11, 2017.

The transplant went smoothly, and Mark had 2 gallons of urine output by the next morning! (I should explain that Mark did not urinate AT ALL for over a year, so this was

Organ donor recipient, Mark, and his family.

Mark with his wife, Amanda, and their daughter, Mallory.

great news!) The first 24 hours were pretty rough for me, but once we figured out that most of my symptoms were due to the pain medications, they were discontinued,

and I got better.

I was discharged on July 13, and after spending a couple more days with family in the Metro, I felt up to the 2.5-hour car ride home. Mark continued to improve as well and was given the OK to go home much sooner than we anticipated.

Words cannot explain how grateful and honored I am that I was able to do this for Mark. I am so thankful that he has been doing well since the transplant. I am hopeful that my kidney will give him a record number of years before he needs a new one. If the need arose, and if I could do it again, I would not hesitate. After all, he is my child, and we as parents would sacrifice anything for them. They are worth every ounce.


About the Author: Holly Anderson is an LPN at TCHC’s Verndale Clinic. She and her husband, Erick, live in rural Verndale and have two children: Mark, 24, and Kaitlyn, 14. Holly is a proud mother-in-law to Amanda and grandmother to beautiful little Mallory who is 9 months old. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, listening to music, and the outdoors.

Garden of Hope honors organ and tissue donors

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By Lois Miller, RN, BSN, Garden of Hope Project Manager


Nationally, more than 117,000 people are waiting for transplants, and that number rises every day. Those transplants might be the difference between life and death, which is why all organ and tissue donors, whether living or deceased, deserve gratitude.

View of the Garden of HopeA group of Tri-County Health Care employees and interested community members proposed the idea of a memorial garden. A garden represents life and hope and could serve as an inspiration to others to consider organ and tissue donation.

The nonprofit organization LifeSource, which aims to save lives with organ and tissue donation in the Upper Midwest, helped the garden committee spark ideas for this new project. The committee included a heart transplant recipient and two families of organ donors.

Youngbauer Landscaping built the garden on the Wesley Hospital lawn and unveiled the work in progress to the public during Tri-County’s community block party on July 18.

A circle of pavers will surround a weathered stone bench and blooming plants while the organ donation flag flies overhead. One by one, each paver will be engraved with a donor’s name. The peaceful area offers visitors a place to rest, reflect and recognize each donor listed.

The centerpiece of the garden is a poem engraved in granite, written by former Wadena resident and heart transplant recipient Jim Swenson. He penned the poem about six months after receiving his transplant on Sept. 18, 2004.Garden of Hope on the Wesley Lawn

“How else can I put it other than to say I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t received that gift of a heart?” Jim said. “It means everything. It’s a chance for life, and it is almost impossible in words to express gratitude for being given that chance.

“I can tell you from a standpoint of caregivers, while they are waiting for loved ones … I think the garden would be a wonderful place for them to go sit for a while rather than a hospital waiting room.”

You can share in the legacy established by the Garden of Hope by purchasing a paver to honor a donor 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 Hospital entrances or can be obtained from Project Manager 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.

April is Donate Life Month

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Donate Life Month

Did you know that anyone, regardless of their age, can be an organ or tissue donor? That is right! We can all be life savers at any age. Our medical condition at the time of our death determines what organs and tissues can be donated. We can also become a living donor.

Did you know…

  • Every 10 minutes someone is added to the national transplant waiting list and on average 22 people die every day while waiting for a transplant.
  • One donor can save and heal as many as 60 lives through organ, eye and tissue donation. More than 90% of the patients waiting for a transplant can be helped by a living donor.
  • Organs and tissues that can be transplanted include heart and heart valves, lung, kidney, pancreas, liver, intestines, corneas, skin, tendons and bone.
  • 64% of all adults in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota are registered donors.

** Statistical information courtesy of LifeSource

All major religions approve of organ/tissue donation and consider it to be an act of charity. Pope Francis has been quoted as stating that donation is “a testimony of love of our neighbor”. The gift of life is the most precious gift we can give.

You too can register to become a donor at and your decision to be a donor should be noted on your driver’s license. It is also important to discuss your decision to donate with your family. That knowledge will be a gift to them.

Celebrate Life Flag Raising Event
Come and join us as we celebrate life on April 8 at 9 a.m. We will hear from a local resident who received a heart transplant as a teenager and from the mother of a teen who was a recent donor. Their stories of love promise to be most inspiring. Our Donate Life flag will be raised that day and will be flown for the remainder of April as we recognize Donate Life month.

The flag raising ceremony will be held on Friday, April 8 at 9 a.m. All donor families, transplant recipients, friends and the public are invited to gather outside the Emergency Room entrance of Tri-County Health Care, near the flag pole. A press release about this event can be found on the Tri-County Health Care website at

About the Author:
Lois Miller graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the College of St. Benedict in 1976 and since then has worked as a Registered Nurse (RN) at Tri-County Health Care. Since 1992, Lois has worked with the organ/tissue donation program and has worked with patients as they have waited for and received transplants. Lois has a close friend who is currently in need of a kidney transplant. Lois is pictured here with her dog Yoku, a Westie Terrier Mix.

Tri-County Health Care recognized by US Department of Health and Human Services

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Tri-County Health Care is among a select group of hospitals and transplant centers nationwide recognized by the U.S.

Barb Nelson-Agnew from Life Source presenting award to Lois Miller, alongside Kathy Kleen (left) Chief Nursing Officer and CEO/President Joel Beiswenger (far right).

Barb Nelson-Agnew from Life Source presenting award to Lois Miller, alongside Kathy Kleen (left) Chief Nursing Officer and CEO/President Joel Beiswenger (far right).

Department of Health and Human Services for reaching a bronze level of achievement by conducting activities that promote enrollment in state organ donor registries. Tri-County Health Care is part of the national Workplace Partnership for Life Hospital Campaign, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health And Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration.

Tri-County Health Care’s awareness and registry campaigns educated staff, patients, visitors, and community members on the critical need for organ, eye, and tissue donors and thereby increased the number of potential donors on the state’s donor registry. The hospital earned points for each activity implemented during Phase IV of the campaign, between August 1, 2014 and April 30, 2015, and was awarded bronze recognition by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since January 1, 2014, four tissue donors at Tri-County Health Care have provided more than 240 life-saving and enhancing tissue gifts for grateful transplant recipients from Minnesota and beyond. “Our staff is committed to the mission of donation and we encourage others to give the precious gift of life,” said Joel Beiswenger, Tri-County Health Care President and CEO. “The need is real and by registering to become a donor you have an opportunity to provide a second chance at life.”

A gold standard in health care is to have hospitals refer every death to their donation agency partner within one hour and Tri-County Health Care has achieved a 100 percent timely referral rate since 2014. In 2015, 100 percent of families who have been approached about donation have said “yes” to it, either by honoring their loved one’s decision to be a donor, or by authorizing donation to proceed upon their loved one’s death. This speaks to the care and compassion the family receives while at the hospital, as we know they are more likely to proceed with donation if their comfort level is high.

Donate Life Flag

Donate Life Flag

Tri-County Health Care has implemented a donate life flag flying policy and offers the donor family the option of having the donate life flag risen at the hospital and flown for 24 hours in remembrance of their loved one and in honor of the selfless gifts they are leaving as a lasting legacy.

Of the 1,658 hospitals and transplant centers enrolled in the campaign, 736 were awarded recognition during this phase of the campaign. These numbers represent a 29 percent increase in enrollment and a 56 percent increase in recognition over Phase III, and, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are “a tribute to the work that so many have dedicated to this effort. Most important, since launching in 2011, the campaign has added more than 350,000 donor enrollments to state registries around the country, far surpassing the original goal of 300,000.”

This campaign is a special effort of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Workplace Partnership for Life designed to mobilize the nation’s hospitals to increase the number of those registered as potential organ, eye, and tissue donors. The campaign unites donation advocates at hospitals with representatives from their organ procurement organizations, Donate Life America state teams, and state hospital associations. Working together, teams leverage communications resources and outreach efforts to proactively promote the critical need for donors.

Video from our flag raising ceremony this past spring:

For more information about Tri-County Health Care’s participation in this campaign, contact Lois Miller, RN at 218-631-7463 or via e-mail at