One of the seven Iowa Donor Quilt of Memories was on display at the Well Aware Health Fair in Le Mars Oct. 22. The quilt squares honor those who with their death gave life to others in the form of organ donation.
Individual squares on the patchwork quilt tell a story of unselfish love and caring for people.
Those are the squares that make up the "Quilt of Memories," often called an Iowa Donor Network (IDN) quilt, and it remembers the lives of those who died but through organ donations live on in others.
One of the first quilts carries a square honoring a Le Mars man, the late Dale Kessenich.
His wife, now Dorothy Ruhland, said she wanted to remember her husband in a special way and wrote words to honor Dale and his gift of organ donation to incorporate into the quilt square.
"Dale was so healthy and he died so suddenly," Ruhland said. "It was such a shock," she continued as she recalled the day she came home and found her husband.
It was June 29, 1999. He had just turned 65.
She still remembers being in the emergency room at Floyd Valley Hospital, where she worked as a housekeeping/laundry supervisor, and being asked if she would be willing to have Dale be an organ donor.
"I know the nurse hated to ask me," she said, "but I didn't hesitate. I said yes." She also remembers hospital administrator Mike Donlin standing with her through the process.
For Ruhland, however, the decision came easy.
"Dale's sister had to have two kidney transplants, the first in 1979 and then in 1980," Ruhland explained. Both kidneys came from donors who had died. "She's still living today because of those organ donors," Ruhland said.
With her family around her, Ruhland made the decision for the organ donation. Because of the suddenness of his death, Dale's internal organs could not be used. Instead skin, bones and ligaments were taken.
Ruhland later wrote about the donation.
"I was told his gift of bone and connective tissue will help with various orthopaedic and neurosurgical conditions. The tissue will be used in back, join, and leg surgeries such as hip replacement and knee reconstruction. The skin would be used in reconstructive surgery," she wrote.
She also found out that one recipient was an 8-year-old child.
"That really gave me a sense of peace," Ruhland said. "Dale loved kids."
The quilt with Dale's square was displayed at Floyd Valley Hospital in May 2001.
"It was so natural for me to say yes to the donation," said Ruhland, "and to say yes when I found out about the donor quilt."
She receives a newsletter, "For Those Who Give & Grieve," which shares information with those who have given permission for organ donation from a loved one.
"You know you're not alone," she said as she looked through the newsletter.
According to Julie Stearn, who coordinates the quilt blocks for the Iowa Donor Network, the first quilt was constructed in 2000, as a joint effort between the IDN and the Iowa Lions Eye Bank.
Later the two groups split, each making their own quilts, with the IDN focusing on those who are organ and tissue donors.
"We still maintain contact with families who have squares on that first quilt and each one since," said Stearn.
The quilts are on-going project.
"There are no deadlines," Stearn said. "We let families know that we are doing the quilts and give them the opportunity to submit a square if they so desire."
"We have a donor mom, Robin, who puts the quilts together for us. Her daughter, Sarah, was a donor in 2002," Stearn explained.
"Once we get a completed quilt, anywhere from 20 to 30 patches, we display it around the state, at public awareness events where we talk about organ donations," she said.
It was at the Well Aware Health Fair in Le Mars Oct. 22 that one of the quilts was displayed.
"We currently have six quilts completed and are working on a seventh one," Stearn said.
"It's a way to commemorate a loved one," she continued. "A picture is worth a thousand words. This allows families to tell their loved one's story through a quilt square."
The IDN only deals with deceased donors.
"We do recoveries from newborns through adults," Stearn said. The age limit for donors is now past the age of 80. "The age limit keeps changing," she said.
The IDN has used the quilts to promote awareness of organ donation in the state.
The IDN is as a non-profit organization that operates as the primary contact for organ, tissue and eye donation services for Iowa. Staff works with more than 100 hospitals across the state. An IDN donation coordinator managers the identification, evaluation and medical maintenance of organ and/or tissue donors, including assisting and/or performing the surgical recovery of organs and tissues, and coordinating the placement and transportation of recovered organs.
the IDN was incorporated in 1994, but the work of organ procurement for transplants dates well before then.
Now the Quilt of Memories pays tribute to loved ones and also serves as a beautiful display for public promotion of the importance of organ and tissue donation.
Ruhland said she knows more of her family members have made the decision to be organ donors.
"My five brothers have signed up to be organ donors," she said.
For Ruhland, who lives in Le Mars with her current husband, Larry, the knowledge that the donation helped so many gives her a sense of peace.
A medallion sent to the family honoring Dale as an organ donor, is now permanently attached to his headstone in the cemetery.
"Now anyone can see and know he was an organ donor," Ruhland said.
And that gives her a sense of peace.
“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves