By Debbie Irmen | Fergus Falls Journal
In a fog of grief, a prior conversation with her daughter came to mind and Fergus Falls resident Julie Nelson knew she had to honor Anna’s earnest request to donate her organs if anything should happen to her.
The conversation came on the day Anna passed her driving test while in high school. As she filled out the licensing paperwork, she asked her mother about the organ donation box.
Julie explained what it was and Anna didn’t hesitate to check the box. On the drive home — Anna was driving — she pulled over to the curb and turned to her mother.
“You have to promise me you will donate my organs,” Anna demanded.
Julie promised, she said, “never expecting I’d have to follow through.”
She honored her promise just five years later.
On the day after Thanksgiving in 2004, as Anna, 21, was driving to Sioux Falls, S.D., she hit black ice and lost control of her car, hitting a semi-wrecker sitting on the side of the road helping a stranded semi truck.
She survived the crash with a collasped lung, a broken leg, a ruptured spleen and a nasty bump on her head, Julie said. However, some fat broke loose, traveling to her heart and from there to her brain, causing multiple strokes which led to her brain death on Dec. 4.
Recalling her promise, Julie and family let doctors know that Anna wished to donate what organs and tissues as possible.
In the end, Anna’s liver, corneas, bone marrow, heart and skin were transplanted through Life Source and the Lions Eye Bank.
Even though recipient information is confidential, Julie was encouraged to leave her contact information in Anna’s file in the event the recipient would want to make contact.
Since those grief-filled days following Anna’s death, Julie learned two young ladies, Jenn and Shanna, received cornea transplants, Bill, a writer, received Anna’s heart (he died 14 months after the transplant from unrelated medical issues) and Mauricio Perez received her liver.
Perez had Hepatitis C, a serious liver disease, following surgeries early in life when he was given tainted blood, Julie said. The two have stayed in touch through e-mails since they both requested contact information through Life Source.
“But we never thought we could meet,” Julie said.
However, when Perez, who lives in Tlalnepantla, Mexico, learned he would be in Minnesota in May for a follow-up medical appointment, he and Julie arranged a meeting.
In honor of the gift he received from Anna, he asked Julie if he could contribute financially to a scholarship fund set up in Anna’s name, but the goal had already been reached.
Perez let Julie know if she ever did anything else in Anna’s name, he would like to make a donation to the cause.
So when planning began for the Angel of Hope park, which commemorates the lives of children who have died, Perez said he’d like to give Julie a donation, but he wanted to do it in person, he said. So he let Julie know when he would be in the state and they arranged to meet May 15.
They hugged and cried and talked right there in the lobby of the hotel, Julie said and he shared his story with her.
Before the two parted, Perez gave her $5,000 toward the Angel of Hope Park fund, putting the $80,000 goal within reach.
Through fundraisers, the sale of memorial blocks and Perez’ donation, organizers have raised about $71,000. They hope to raise the remaining amount this weekend during a pancake and sausage breakfast, serving from 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday at Applebee’s. Donations are requested.
Anyone interested in purchasing a memorial block for $125, should do so now as the price will go up once the park pillars are in place, according to Sandi Kenyon, one of the park organizers.
Julie stressed the importance of knowing in advance the wishes of family members regarding organ donation — all it takes is one conversation at the supper table, she said.
“It’s a lot easier knowing ahead of time,” Julie said. “I knew what Anna wanted, there was never a doubt. It gave me peace in my heart, mind and soul that she didn’t die for nothing.”