Donating Life, Remembering a Life

Organ donation directly influenced Ashley Peterson’s decision to become a registered nurse. At only 14 years old, when faced with a family tragedy, Ashley watched nurses care for her brother with sincere kindness and empathy.

Today, Ashley volunteers for LifeSource and serves as co-chair of Trails4Transplants, a long-distance, multiple-week horse trail ride to promote awareness for organ, eye and tissue donation.

Blake - Senior PhotoIn her career as a nurse, Ashley listens to heartbeats regularly. None are as distinct as her brother Blake’s.

Ashley’s Story
On June 11, 2000, my family and I faced the unimaginable death of my 19-year-old brother, Blake Allen Johnson.

The Accident
Blake, my mom, dad and brother were celebrating at a wedding the night of the accident.  Blake’s vehicle was in an area where many minors had been consuming alcohol. Fearful something could happen to Blake’s pickup or someone would attempt to drink and drive, my mom decided the vehicle needed to be moved to a safer area. Blake watched from afar as my mom proceeded, and he became angry because she did not ask to move it.

Blake jumped on the running boards and began to argue through the window. They slowly drove down the rural blacktop road, with my dad and oldest brother following behind. A car came up behind my dad and brother, passed them and then proceeded to pass my mom, with Blake on the running boards. Blake looked down, became disoriented and fell, hitting the back of his head. My mom jumped out of the pickup to hold him. Blake looked up into the sky, called “Oh, God” and then lost consciousness.

Sunday Mourning
After returning home from summer camp, my uncles took me to the hospital that Sunday morning. When I arrived, my parents and my brother were still in their wedding outfits from the night before. They trembled with tears when they saw me.

My parents escorted me in to see Blake. The first thing I saw was the ventilator. I sat at his bedside and prayed. I laid my head against the crisp white sheets and listened to his strong heartbeat.

Blake’s doctors came in and explained his condition. He had a severe traumatic brain injury, and if it wasn’t for the ventilator, he could not breathe on his own. The words shattered our lives.

Discussing Donation
Shortly after they confirmed Blake’s death, a hospital liaison from LifeSource discussed our options. She stated he would be a candidate to donate his organs and how organ donation can help save other lives. As she was explaining the options I thought, ‘What in the world is happening? Why is she talking to us? Is this really happening?’

Her compassion and sorrow for our loss was truly genuine. Then, she asked, “Do you think organ donation is something your family would like to do?” Hit with the harsh reality, somehow the answer ‘yes’ came from my mouth.

My parents decided the decision would have to be unanimous. We had until the next day to decide.

Saying Yes
We went to my sister’s apartment and discussed the donation option. One of Blake’s good friends told us they had been out one night at a friend’s house and everyone threw their wallets on a coffee table. They were looking through each others’ wallets and noticed Blake was the only one with ‘organ donor’ on his license. We looked through Blake’s belongings and sure enough, he was a donor. The answer was clear.

We returned to the hospital to say our final goodbyes. We prayed over him and praised God for his life. I laid my head on the crisp white sheets to listen to his heart one last time. I’ll never forget leaving that hospital room. Ever.

Blake was always a giver, even up to his last breath. He was the 19th donor from North Dakota that year. The gifts of his heart, liver, pancreas and kidneys saved four lives. His liver went to a 10-year-old girl in a neighboring hometown, whose mother worked with my mom. And, his heart went to Herb.

John and Ashley 2013

Meeting Herb
In September of 2011, our family drove to Iowa to meet Blake’s heart recipient. What a joy it was to see John ‘Herb’ get to watch his children and grandchildren grow, celebrate holidays and his 50th wedding anniversary.

Herb’s family wrote us Father’s Day cards before we met. Blake was killed on Father’s Day that year, and they knew because of Blake’s gift, they get to celebrate their dad. We had an instant connection.

Herb’s story picked up where ours had ended. It was exhilarating to hear the rest of the story from our traumatic loss to the renewal of Herb’s life. At the end of our first meeting, I finally worked up the courage to ask him if we could listen to his heart with my stethoscope. He responded, “Oh yes, please do.”

Listening to Blake's heart

 For the first time in 11 years, I got to listen to my brother’s heart beat again. It sounded exactly as it did the day Blake left us.

We have continued to keep close contact with Herb and his family. They are our family now, too.

Meeting Herb(Summer is Ashley’s older sister, and Darlene is John’s wife.)

Gifts of Life, Happiness and Comfort
The decision to donate brought back so much life and happiness to our family through such a dreadful time. Blake’s ultimate gift of life to others was also a gift to us. Because of the gift, our family has survived the unthinkable. It brings us much comfort to know Blake’s legacy will continue on through his decision to be a donor.

Our Living Legacy

Our Living Legacy donor wall dedication will honor donors like Blake who have shared the gifts of organ, tissue and eye donation. Learn more about this event on April 23. During National Donate Life Month, let life bloom by registering as a donor. 

Ashley Peterson works as a registered nurse at Altru. Originally from Warren, Minn., she enjoys dog training, hunting, gardening, volunteering for LifeSource and is an active church member.

North Dakota’s RN of the Year

We are proud to announce that Autumn Nelson, patient care supervisor of in-patient float pool at Altru Health System, was recently chosen as North Dakota’s RN of the year by the International Nurses Association. With this honor, she will be inducted into the worldwide leader organization.

ND-RN-of-year

Autumn Nelson, RN, BSN is being honored for her exceptional success in the nursing profession. Autumn has demonstrated the passion, dedication and enthusiasm for patient care necessary to be considered the Top Nurse in ND. Congratulations to Autumn for representing the nursing profession and the state of North Dakota.

Autumn at Altru
A member of the Altru team since 2009, Autumn started as a certified nursing assistant on the Cardiac Unit, then transferred into a nurse co-op position on the Women and Children Unit until graduation. She also completed her practicum in the ICU for three months. From 2012-13, Autumn was a bedside RN in the float pool, and later was promoted to patient care supervisor.

“I think it is wonderful when one of our own is nominated and recognized,” says Margaret Reed, Chief Nurse Executive at Altru. “Autumn is a bright young professional and will do well in her pursuit of being a nurse practitioner.”

When asked why she picked nursing, “I wouldn’t say I picked the nursing profession; nursing picked me,” Autumn explains. “I have always been passionate about caring for people and making a difference in the word. Nursing is such a rewarding profession, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

Making a difference, here and beyond
In addition to her work at Altru, Autumn is currently in graduate school at the University of North Dakota for her master’s degree for Family Nurse Practitioner, where she teaches undergraduate nursing students. She also serves on the Nurse Practice Committee for the ND Board of Nursing and Health Policy Committee for the ND Coalition.

Congratulate Autumn on this achievement by leaving a comment below.

Cold Nose, Warm Heart

Nora3She’s approachable, gentle and warm-hearted. Although she doesn’t say much, her presence speaks volumes. And, comparable to her co-workers, providing excellent service is a top priority. Meet Face of Altru, Nora.

Every dog has its day, and Nora, four-and-a-half-year-old certified pet therapy dog, has discovered hers at Altru. As the top-dog of Altru’s new Pet Therapy program, she visits patients every Monday morning, lifting the mood in waiting areas and spending time with adolescents in group therapy.

“We are continually exploring holistic healing options for our patients. When we met Nora, we fell in love with her. We knew we needed to start a pet therapy program at Altru,” explains Sherry Burg, manager of Altru’s Family Birthing Center, Pediatrics and NICU.

Calming Canine
Hospitalization is a stressful time. Socializing with Nora provides the opportunity to experience relaxation and calmness during their stay. “Nora’s nature is very gentle and kind. It’s hard not to feel more relaxed when you’re around her,” says owner, David Magnuson. Pet therapy has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress.

Nora and Friends
In the future, Nora might not be the only tail-wagging employee making rounds. Since the inception of Altru’s pet therapy program, Nora has made quite the impact. “She’s been very well-received throughout the organization,” says Burg. “So well received, that we are exploring other therapy dogs for the program.”

Stay tuned for more information about Nora’s potential friends. Until then, this furry Face of Altru will work like a dog to bring smiles and unconditional love to all.

A simple touch can go a long way in restoring health. Have you met Nora? If so, how did her healing presence make you feel?

Mind over Matter

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindall

During our journey through life, at one point or another, we are faced with adversity. Only we, ourselves, can decide how to overcome hardship. When faced with adversity in 2000, Wyatt Halvorson, chose determination.

Life-Altering Moments
While working at a seed plant, Wyatt’s leg was seriously injured in an accident involving equipment. Due to infection and other complications, he made the decision to have it amputated.

“I was going into my senior year of college. I was playing football. That was the only thing I knew at that point,” he said. “I hadn’t prepared for the future. But, it wasn’t worth feeling sorry for myself.”

A New Direction
Wyatt resumed life with a positive attitude. Little did he know that his opportunity to overcome tribulations could lead to a job opportunity.

“I was always working with my hands. As a farm kid, you had to be able to think outside the box and build things with your hands. During my appointments with Paul, he would encourage me to pursue a career in prosthetics. Finally, I did. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Working in Altru’s Prosthetic and Orthotics department gives him a sense of satisfaction knowing that he can help people who are going through the same struggles he once faced.

“It’s the most rewarding job you could ever have. I know what it’s like to take those first few steps after the amputation,” he said. “I keep telling them that there will be hard moments and setbacks, but you have to keep looking forward and stay positive.

Wyatt
Overcoming Obstacles
Despite everything he’s been though, having prosthesis doesn’t keep Wyatt from living the fullest life possible. This Face of Altru lives in Northwood, N.D, where he ranches and farms. He is also national champion in wheelchair softball, with MVP honors. By the spring of 2014, he hopes to have organized a wheelchair softball league for youth in Grand Forks, and is currently trying to get sponsorships for a field.

“You only get one chance to go around. Have fun. Do what you can and don’t have any regrets,” he said.

Wyatt tackles adversity with a mindset to overcome obstacles. What about him inspires you? Drop him a comment.

High 5!

High Five!Recognition can feel like your favorite warm drink on a cold, blustery day. It warms you up, keeps you going and ignites good feelings. Altru’s new employee recognition program, High 5! Reaching High and Growing Stronger, is designed to do just that. 

The program is offered to existing Altru employees and volunteers who are celebrating their five year incremental anniversaries for serving our organization. We want to give back to our long-term employees who have given us their time and dedication.

Here’s the top five themes from High 5!:  

1.  Recognition. A big thank you to all our dedicated staff. The program’s goal is to warm employees with appreciation and provide them with a renewed sense of energy for the future. It’s also an opportunity for senior leaders to recognize employees’ commitment and tenure. Another way we do this is our Employee Recognition Dinner. The 2013 event will take place on Monday, September 30, at the Alerus Center.

2. Communication. Communication is essential to the success of any organization. It needs to flow freely between employees and management. High Five! creates a forum for employees to suggest how to strengthen our organization and work together to accomplish our mission. 

3. Building Relationships. Our leaders show their support and converse with employees and volunteers. For example, Altru’s CEO, Dave Molmen, recently presented at High 5. He told stories about Altru’s colorful history and thanked staff for weathering challenging economic times and remaining committed to quality care at Altru.

4. Acknowledgement. Through the program, we encourage employees to provide input on ways to improve the organization we all know and love. We’ve discussed opportunities to improve communication with patients and families and to enhance  teamwork in our dynamic environment. No matter how long you’ve worked at Altru, your care impacts our patients, coworkers and our community. We know your feedback is important to improving our system.

InspirationMissionBoard 5. Inspiration. Each participant of High 5 was asked to write what inspires them on a paper hand, which symbolizes a leaf. You can find these leaves on the mission boards in the hospital cafeteria and clinic break room. Take a moment to read them.

 

 

 

Karen Mellum, L&ODKaren Mellum, PhD, is an organizational development consultant at Altru focused on facilitating positive change in the workplace by assessing and responding to the needs of leaders and teams. She began working at Altru in December 2012. In prior roles, she worked in business settings providing employee assistance (EAP) and organizational development services. She is a licensed psychologist with specialty areas in career and work-life issues, leadership development, coaching, and spirituality. She also holds a Certificate in Organization Development. In her free time, Karen enjoys spending time with her husband, 10-year-old twins and golden retriever. She also enjoys running, reading, volunteer activities, and traveling.

What inspires you in your work?  Let us know. How about a high five?

Face of Altru – Jolene Mikkelson

When I asked Jolene what word best describes her personality, she looked at me, grinning ear to ear. “Enthusiastic,” she said. “I would have to say that I’m an enthusiastic person.”

My conversation with Jolene, occupational therapist in Altru’s Pediatric Therapy department, was brief. But, it was obvious that anyone who knows her, whether from Altru, Grand Forks, throughout the Red River Valley, or, most recently, South Korea, would definitely agree. She is enthusiastic.   

Discovering Special Olympics
In February, Jolene’s son Tommy Mikkelson competed in the 2013 Special Olympics World Winter Games in South Korea.

Jolene and Tommy with Heidi Heitkamp

Growing up, Tommy was eager to play every sport offered in Grand Forks. As he got older, the playing field was more competitive. “When his seventh grade teacher suggested he try Special Olympics, it was a game changer, for the both of us,” said Jolene. “Special Olympics has become my hobby.”

Over the course of Tommy’s ten  years with Special Olympics, Jolene has devoted countless hours to the organization. Whether it’s serving on the board, coaching cross country skiing, making meals for athletes, coordinating events or cheering on her son, Jolene brings her enthusiasm to every facet of Special Olympics.

Her and her husband’s hard work has paid off. Tommy is now a decorated Olympian. He returned from South Korea with three medals, including the Gold medal in alpine skiing. “We are very proud of our young man,” she said.

Jolene with Tommy and her husband, Dan.

Spread the Word to End the Word
In recent years, Jolene has brought her enthusiasm to a new movement presented through Special Olympics: Spread the Word to End the Word.

The nation-wide campaign strives to promote understanding and acceptance between people with and without intellectual disabilities, and stop the use of the offensive word “retard.”

Every year, on the first Wednesday in March, educational presentations occur at schools throughout the country. This year, Tommy will be speaking at Red River High School, among others schools, about how harmful the r-word can be.

“I got involved with the R-word to educate people and let them know how very painful the word is,” she said. “Words change attitudes. Attitudes change behavior. I encourage everyone to take the pledge to stop using this word.”

I’ve taken the pledge for Jolene and Tommy. Will you?

Get inspired by Jolene’s charisma and enthusiasm for making change. Watch her video. I’ve taken the pledge for Jolene and Tommy. Will you? Leave her a comment. 

Morning Gloria

Morning glory flowers unravel into full bloom in the early morning. At 4:30 a.m., Gloria Delaguardia, an Altru phlebotomist, is doing the same.

Gloria is as lively as can be in the wee morning hours. Between her friendly disposition and selfless ambition, Gloria is a Face of Altru.

“I enjoy interacting with my patients. In the early morning, most patients are sleeping. When I visit them, I always start by saying ‘good morning, my name is Gloria. I’m here to draw blood, and after I’m done is there anything I can do for you?’”

Dedicated Daughter
Gloria’s shift usually ends around 8:30 a.m., but her workday isn’t finished.

After caring for patients at Altru, she also cares for her elderly mother in East Grand Forks. “She’s 83 years old and is suffering from many health problems. It’s a challenge to take care of her, but she’s my treasure. I love her so much,” says Gloria. “She’s always given me good advice – ‘Listen to others and smile.’”

Gloria’s genuine warmth spreads throughout the health system. “We really enjoy Gloria, and so do our patients,” says Sheila Piper, supervisor of phlebotomy services.

Do you know someone who sets a great example for our organization? Tell us their name and what makes them a Face of Altru.

Morning Gloria

Morning glory flowers unravel into full bloom in the early morning. At 4:30 a.m., Gloria Delaguardia, an Altru phlebotomist, is doing the same.

Gloria is as lively as can be in the wee morning hours. Between her friendly disposition and selfless ambition, Gloria is a Face of Altru.

“I enjoy interacting with my patients. In the early morning, most patients are sleeping. When I visit them, I always start by saying ‘good morning, my name is Gloria. I’m here to draw blood, and after I’m done is there anything I can do for you?’”

Dedicated Daughter
Gloria’s shift usually ends around 8:30 a.m., but her workday isn’t finished.

After caring for patients at Altru, she also cares for her elderly mother in East Grand Forks. “She’s 83 years old and is suffering from many health problems. It’s a challenge to take care of her, but she’s my treasure. I love her so much,” says Gloria. “She’s always given me good advice – ‘Listen to others and smile.’”

Gloria’s genuine warmth spreads throughout the health system. “We really enjoy Gloria, and so do our patients,” says Sheila Piper, supervisor of phlebotomy services.

Do you know someone who sets a great example for our organization? Tell us their name and what makes them a Face of Altru.

Ordinary Heroes

Remember Mr. Wilson from the popular 1990s TV show, “Home Improvement”? He was a wonderful neighbor, always there with free advice and willing to help the Taylors’ in a heartbeat. Yet, he never revealed his full face. Always mysterious.

We have several Mr. Wilsons at Altru. These wise, humble helpers rise to the occasion in a moment’s notice. Here are a few inspiring stories of real-life heroes.

Goodbye, PJs. Hello, ER.
Cara Brekke, a nurse in Altru’s Pediatric Clinic, was visiting family in Baudette, Minn. While leisurely sipping their Sunday morning coffee, the phone rang. There was a local emergency, and Cara’s mom, Sue, also a nurse, was needed at the hospital. Cara was eager to help, too.

“Your adrenaline starts pumping, and you just go,” explained Cara. “Because, that’s what you do.”

Fifteen minutes later, Cara swiftly put her medical skills to work, taking notes for doctors and nurses in LakeWood Health Center’s three-bed emergency room. Five men were badly burned in a local ice house explosion. With her experience as a first responder and six years as a LPN at that very hospital, Cara knew what to do.

Nearby was Tom Zeidlik, an Altru paramedic. In fact, he was the only trained paramedic at the accident. Tom generously donated his time and expertise, riding in the ambulance and watching over a victim until the flight team arrived. He humbly claimed he “played a small part in it.” To the patient and his family, Tom’s presence was a big gift.

Safe Travels
In December, Jessica Aasen, RN, clinical nursing supervisor, was enjoying a vacation with her sister when a fellow plane passenger started to shake uncontrollably. The college-aged woman was having a seizure. Without hesitation, Jessica took action.

“At the time, I focused on keeping her safe from hurting herself,” explained Jessica. “She was sitting next to the window, so I tried to keep her head from hitting it. As soon as she stopped seizing, I tried to get her to tell me her name. I was nervous when she wasn’t conscious right away, and hoped she would keep breathing.” Thankfully, the young woman came through.

Jessica’s act of altruism didn’t go unnoticed. Dr. Thomas N. Bettes, American Airlines’ medical director, sent her a formal thank you on behalf of the company. The letter stated, “We are all grateful that you were on-board and freely offered your medical expertise when it was needed most. Without a doubt, you greatly improved a difficult situation.”

“I did what anyone would’ve done in that situation,” said Jessica. “It was a natural response. As far as I know, I was the only one present with a medical background, until the paramedics arrived.”

Auto Assistance
Most recently, there was a car accident on 32nd Avenue in Grand Forks. The ambulance was called, but the elderly driver did not feel she needed to be transported.

On scene was a husband and wife paramedic team from Altru, Bruce and Lorina Weymier. The duo assisted the woman until the ambulance arrived. After it left, they helped her bring her car to Rydell’s and called her insurance company. Their generosity didn’t end there. When the woman later felt ill, they brought her to the emergency room and even located a nearby friend in the clinic to sit with her.

“This kind of thing happens all the time after hours,” explained Art Culver, manager of ambulance services. “We always help. It’s in our nature.”

We’re proud to share stories of altruistic employees. The Mr. Wilsons of Altru Health System are nothing shy of heroes. Thank you for humbly helping others, both on and off the clock.

What random acts of kindness have you witnessed recently? Let us know.

Face of Altru – Jane Loscheider

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
-Confucius

Jane Loscheider of Altru’s Occupational Therapy has heeded this advice. She loves what she does. She is a Face of Altru.

Her words echo compassion for her patients and co-workers. “I love my job. The great thing is that I come to work and get paid to do what I do. That’s a really great gift. I love the patients and the variety of my day.”

This go-getter with three kids, two cats and one dog doesn’t stop with devoting 100 percent to her job at Altru. She’s also heavily involved with Spin for Kids, an annual fundraiser that strives to provide medical assistance to families of children with special needs.

“I’ve been able to work with kids that have been direct recipients of Spin for Kids. I’ve helped kids with spina bifida, and without these funds, may not be able to drive. It’s very rewarding.”

With a kind heart and positive attitude, Jane exemplifies what it means to live our mission.

Jane’s role model is her co-worker. Who inspires you to work hard and be the best version of yourself?  Drop us a comment.