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

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.