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A Family Tradition of Giving

For Lynne and David Berwald, the idea of checking the box and being an organ donor when the time came was something that they’d grown up with and it was something they shared with their children, Jordyn, Kelsey and Blake.

Lynne shared that “My grandmother was always passionate about being an organ donor, we talked about it a lot. I was brought up that way. It was sort of like faith. David was actually very passionate about organ donation. I can’t speak to where his motivation came from. Our kids were brought up “That’s just what you do. You help other people and when we are done with our body, our vessel, if it can be paid forward for someone else’s life, that’s just what you do.”

My grandmother was forward-thinking. She managed an office for five eye doctors and she always wanted to donate her eyes

For Kelsey, it was the experience of having a good friend pass away at the end of her freshman year of high school. “At the funeral, my friend (Jeff)’s  family shared that his soul lived on in others because of donation. He’s still giving.” We learned about (organ donation) from there. . . It gave us lots of cause to question and think about this.

Blake reflected that growing up, especially in Minnesota, that you hear about guys going to deer camp in the fall.  He was soon to realize that experience was more than that. It was the long drives, the walks in the woods together that gave them the opportunity for deep talks. One memory stands out. “It was the fall before my 15th birthday, my dad talked to me about always checking the box, and what it truly means.”

Jordyn shared “growing up, we volunteered with senior citizens at the facility where our grandmother worked. Our grandmother (affectionately known as Nonni) encouraged us to ask the people we met, “What’s the one thing we need to know about life?” For Nonni, the most important thing for her was to always “Check the box, you never know who is going to be in need.” She lived that example for her family. At the time, one of the residents of the senior living facility needed a kidney, and Nonni was the first one to step up and be tested, but she was not a match.

Consistent with these strong family values, Nonni has created her funeral plan and has documented her desire to be an organ, eye and tissue donor if possible. The even greater gift to her family is that they know what her wishes are because she has shared it with them.

 First Connections with LifeSource

David was diagnosed with pneumonia in 2010, but his symptoms never really went away. Things progressed and his condition got worse in the fall of 2014. He was eventually diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). 

In 2013, the Berwald family had their first contact with LifeSource through the construction of the new LifeSource office building located in northeast Minneapolis. Berwald Roofing, owned and operated by the Berwald Family, for more than 40 years, was instrumental in the roofing for this project which was completed in November 2014. According to Kelsey, “LifeSource was one of my Dad’s last official projects where he was able to go up on the roof and look around.” At the time that construction first began, there was no indication of how important the family’s connection to LifeSource would become. 

It was during a doctor’s appointment at the University of Minnesota, that David and Lynne would first learn that his medical team felt he may be a candidate for lung transplant. Eventually, David’s health reached the point where his doctor felt they needed to start the process to get on the transplant wait list. The first thing that was recommended was for the couple to attend a support class to learn more about the transplant process. Lynne shared “It was very interesting because you walk into a foreign world. One where you feel like you are the only one who has a problem, but then you are suddenly embraced by all of these people who are going through similar situations. This group provided information that allowed us to embrace the idea of transplant. When we walked into the room for that meeting, there a woman from LifeSource, very loving, very embracing, and she spoke to the group, shared a packet and gave us the green bracelets. Some of the people in this group had already had a transplant, others were waiting or were being evaluated for the wait list.”

“When you need a transplant and you go through the transplant evaluation week, you start to realize the reality that “if I don’t get this transplant, I won’t be here.” There’s a little bit of a desperation – you start to think – what if I don’t stay healthy enough for transplant? What if? Then God lays out this plan that is totally different than how you thought it was going to go. And you find out that you don’t qualify for transplant. Then there is acceptance.”

David had a clogged artery in his heart. His lungs were not strong enough to undergo heart bypass surgery, and his heart couldn’t stand the lung surgery. With that new information, David was no longer a candidate for transplant. That moment of accepting that there is nowhere else to go is a hard one.

For us, the problem with that acceptance was the thought that David would not be able to offer the hope to someone else, like we had hoped to receive. Or so we thought.

“David had always wanted to be a donor. That was such a big thing for him. He (and we) thought that he wasn’t a candidate to be a donor because of his lungs. He left this world thinking that he had nothing to offer, that he wasn’t able to donate. Then LifeSource gave us such a gift. Here I was driving home from the hospital by myself in the car, and I get your phone call. I literally was just shocked beyond belief.”

“The beauty of the call that we received with the offer to take David as a tissue donor is that the hope that we so desperately needed at one point, we gave to someone else. And the tears of sorrow that we felt in that moment, in a way, were happy tears knowing that we made someone else’s dream come true. Because at one point, we had been that dreamer.”

“I remember telling the LifeSource team member when she called and asked me (about tissue donation), “I think yes but let me check with my kids; we are suddenly a “new family” today and it needs to be a family decision.” When I came in and told the kids, everyone started screaming and jumping up and down. Because it was a gift that he wanted to give. It makes me cry talking about it.” 

“The thing that people need to understand is that if you “check the box” you and your family are supported through the process from the beginning to the end. And you feel loved every step of the way through it. LifeSource is so open to educating and communicating and you pay so much attention to the grieving, and people’s feelings. You guys are to be commended. You really help people along in the grieving process.”

“David’s name is inscribed on the Memorial Wall. There is something healing when a loved one’s name is on the Memorial Wall. When you look at the name of your loved one, and then take a few steps back and look at all of the other names on the way and the many lives that have been touched because of these gifts of live – it is powerful and healing. We’ve visited the wall many times. It’s a place of comfort and gives us a chance to share our story with others.” Kelsey shared that she recently brought a group of her friends to the Healing Garden on a day that was particularly hard for her. She was able to reminisce about her dad and share what donation is about and what it has meant to her family. 

“For anyone going through this,” Lynne shared, “it’s not only the hope that LifeSource offers, but LifeSource staff are a resource. When you first get into organ donation, you think you are alone, because it is a scary leap of faith. The amazing thing about LifeSource, from both sides of this (as a potential recipient to being a tissue donor) when we took the leap, there wasn’t one step that wasn’t supported by LifeSource. We were caught every time we thought we were going to fall, or we thought we were uneducated. . .You are the light behind the hope. You are amazing.”

“Even though my dad is gone, we have received letters from people who have received from him. It is awesome to know that he was able to provide help to someone else. We get to feel that love and passion live on,” Kelsey added.

Blake agreed and added, “My dad was a man like no other. He gave me life, nurtured me, taught me, held me and fought for me.  He fought his disease that took away his ability to breathe and yet he had hoped to give the gift of life to others. He was a shining example of what strength, faith and courage are.”