Helping to healTheir stories are different, but they all have a common bond. Their lives have been saved, or they have played a part in saving a life.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
Their stories are different, but they all have a common bond. Their lives have been saved, or they have played a part in saving a life. And every month they gather to celebrate their second chance at life.
On the third Wednesday of each month, the organ donor/recipient support group meets at the Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria. It is comprised of anyone whose life has been touched in any way by organ donation.
Judie and Sig Paulson of Alexandria formed the support group six years ago after Judie received a heart from a teen girl who died in a car crash.
The group has several goals. First and foremost, it provides support, friendship and understanding to donors, recipients and their families. It gives those waiting for a transplant, those who have had a transplant, and the loved ones affected, an opportunity to ask questions and learn as much as they can from those who have been through it.
The group also focuses on getting the word out about the importance of organ donation. The members speak at driver education classes, church groups, senior citizen groups, county fairs, and to “any groups that want to hear” them.
Many members of the group recently gathered for a summer picnic at the Paulsons’ home. At the event, they celebrated the success of the support group and shared their stories of how it has enriched their lives.
A second chance at life
Judie and Sig Paulson’s story was told in the Echo Press on May 14, 2004. In June 2000, Judie underwent a successful heart transplant after a tragic car accident killed 18-year-old Nicole Pagel. About three years after the transplant, Judie met with the teen’s family in the Twin Cities. (In a poignant coincidence, the families discovered that Nicole and Judie shared the same birthday.)
“I had worked with kids with cancer and watched kids die. We are the ones who requested the organ donation,” said Mary Pagel of bequeathing her daughter’s heart to Judie.
To show her appreciation for the gift of a “second chance at life,” Judie vowed to get an organ donor support group formed.
“This group is my promise to her,” Judie said, as she placed her hand on Mary’s shoulder. “It’s a promise I made to my donor family. It gives us a chance to honor our donors and donor families.”
It started slowly with just four or five attendees, but over the past six years, attendance has at times reached 60. Currently, about 45 regular members attend.
According to Judie, the group “takes the fear away from those who are waiting for an organ,” along with giving them the opportunity to tell anyone who will listen how important it is to be an organ donor.
Greg and Debby Pouliot of Garfield told their story in the July 1, 2008 edition of the Echo Press. Their son, Jeff, who suffered from epilepsy, died in October 2006.
He was an angel to Leroy Wegscheid of Battle Lake – Leroy got Jeff’s heart.
The Pouliots, Leroy, and his wife, Ruth, all belong to the Alexandria organ support group.
“I went for some support and to meet some other people who had gone through the same thing,” Debby said. “We have become really involved.”
Of the three support groups Leroy belongs to, he thrives on the attitude at the Alexandria gatherings.
“It’s a different friendship than you see anywhere else. Everybody is so upbeat, so generous. Everyone wants to do something for you all the time,” he said. “This group is all positive. You need that.”
Before their son’s death, the Pouliots were always strong organ donation advocates. This group has made their resolve even stronger, as they are constantly reminded that through his death, many lives were saved. Jeff’s organs and tissues helped almost 60 people.
“For me, [the organ support group] is all abut getting the word out,” Greg said. “That’s my goal, to get more people to donate and to be donors.”
The beat goes on
Bob and Sherry Wechsler and Jay Sheldon of Elbow Lake told their story in the July 16, 2008 Echo Press.
When the Wechslers’ perfectly healthy son, Crist, died from a fall down his basement stairs, his heart kept beating when it was transplanted into Jay in June 2004.
Almost a year later, Jay and his wife met the Wechslers. The friendship was so strong that the Wechslers moved from Illinois to Elbow Lake. Coincidentally, they ended up buying a house just half a block from the Sheldons.
Together, they attend the organ donor/recipient support group meetings.
“I enjoy educating the newer people coming into this,” Jay said. “But I have really learned and am constantly amazed that yes, we are all in this boat together, but everybody’s situation is completely different. By having that common bond, we are able to help those people, even though it isn’t the exact situation.”
“It’s always encouraging to see other people who have gone through the same thing,” Sherry agreed. “It’s that camaraderie. There is a bond there. Everybody has that compassion for everybody else no matter what the situation.”
Like the other members of the group, the Wechslers are intent on getting the message out about how important it is to be a registered organ donor.
“We want everyone to mark on their license that they will be a donor,” Sherry concluded. “That is our goal – awareness.”
How are they doing?
Once not sure how much time they had left, Judie, LeRoy and Jay have all recovered remarkably well from their heart transplants, and have few health issues.
All three heart recipients have become lifelong friends with their donors’ loved ones, and consider them part of their family.
And as their bodies have healed physically, with the help of the organ donor/recipient support group, so, too, are they healing emotionally.
What: Organ donor/recipient support group
When: The third Wednesday of each month from May to October at 7 p.m.
Where: Douglas County Hospital Education Room in Alexandria.
For information, call Judie Paulson at (320) 762-5510 or Lola Anderson at (320) 283-5741.