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Donate Life Day: 2021 Honorees

On April 28th, 2022 LifeSource held our annual Donate Life Day Virtual Event, recognizing and honoring Ambassadors, Partners and Community Members who have helped us further our lifesaving mission in the past year.

Congratulations to the following honorees! 

Ambassador of the Year
Julianne Vasichek, Liver Transplant Recipient

Julianne joined the Ambassador Program in 2012, knowing that a transplant was likely in her future. Wanting to advocate for herself and for the thousands of others waiting for a life-saving transplant, she hit the ground running and has not slowed down since.

Julianne has the unique ability to transform the way people view donation by sharing the story of her life-saving gift of a liver transplant, which she ultimately received in 2015.

Whether she’s speaking to high school students, community groups or healthcare professionals, Julianne finds a way to adapt her message to meet the needs of the audience and to inspire a whole new generation of advocates. Her heartfelt gratitude for her donor and her second chance at life, combined with her energy and passion, leaves a lasting impression on all. She is one-of-a-kind and we are thrilled to honor her.

Community Partner of the Year
Stella Whitney-West, CEO, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center; LifeSource Community Advisory Council Chair  

As Chair of the LifeSource Community Advisory Council, Stella has provided a vision for the Council and has recruited an amazing group of members who are leaders in their own community. The Council is comprised of individuals who bring a diversity of perspective, experience and passion for donation and transplantation. They provide counsel and advice for the development of an effective and sustainable program which supports our Bold Aim of advancing equity and inclusion in donation and transplantation. The Community Advisory Council serves as an important link in connecting LifeSource to the community and welcoming the community to LifeSource.  

Through her leadership and advocacy of the mission of donation, Stella is helping LifeSource to advance our work around health equity and inclusion. She is a true champion of donation. 

Donation Advocate of the Year 
Don and Sue Frank, MSP Courier

In the many years that LifeSource has worked closely with Don, Sue and the entire team at MSP Courier, they have proven to be an invaluable partner, skillfully navigating the complex logistics and transportation involved with the donation and transplant process. Along with their incredible dedication to LifeSource, they regularly go above and beyond to make the impossible, possible – ultimately saving lives. 

Don and Sue are the calm, capable, and compassionate voice that is needed amid this difficult, emotional and complicated work. They are incredible advocates for donation, and absolutely critical to the work we do. We couldn’t do it without them.

Hospital Partners of the Year
Dr. Jason Bartos, Mark Ebeling, Marita Sanders and Craig Menne, M Health Fairview ECMO Program 

The M Health Fairview ECMO Team was honored for their exceptional support for donation. Through their daily work, they collaborate with LifeSource to save lives and are creative in proposing ways to work together to increase donation. The team has built an amazing ECMO program that saves the lives of people who would have previously passed away from their injures. When these patients are not able to survive their injury, even with the help of ECMO, the team views organ donation as another way to save lives and provide hope and healing. In the past 5 years, 60% of the organ donors at the University were ECMO patients.  

It is an honor to work with this team and both programs will continue to grow with Jason, Mark, Marita, and Craig at the helm. 

Melissa Thorson, Director of Trauma, Acute Care/General Surgery and Specialty Provider Programs, North Memorial Health Hospital  

As part of her role as Director of Trauma and Critical Care at North Memorial Health Hospital, Melissa (Mel) Thorson served as Donation Committee Chair and the primary leader for the North Memorial’s donation program for nearly seven years.   


During the time of Mel’s leadership, North Memorial and LifeSource cared for over 500 organ, eye and/or tissue donors. This could only be possible with a strong process and system in place within a hospital. Mel is a master of strong processes and systems. Every time LifeSource has come to Mel with an opportunity to strengthen policy, introduce initiatives, or simply to collaborate better in the shared mission of donation, Mel’s response is yes, what’s the next step? When processes don’t go as intended, Mel’s response is how do we fix it for next time? Mel jokes about how she is not an emotional person, and indeed her matter-of-fact approach, along with her high expectations and mission-driven focus, have built the enduring infrastructure of North Memorial’s strong donation program.

Pay It Forward Award
Bonnie and Tim Bjork

Inspiring. Dedicated. Humble. Determined.  

These are words that describe Tim and Bonnie Bjork. This dynamic duo exudes gratitude for the gift of life that Tim received in 2006; the gift of a heart transplant which has provided them with many opportunities to enjoy more time with family and be present for all the milestone celebrations life has to offer.  

Bonnie and Tim are generous with their time, connecting with other transplant recipients and donor families as well, creating a circle of support in and around the Rapid City area where they call home. Tim has served our region advocating for organ, eye, and tissue donation as a LifeSource Ambassador and as a member of the LifeSource Board of Directors since 2011. As chair of the Board for the last two years, during the COVID pandemic and leadership transitions, he has guided the organization with wisdom and calm determination.   

Tim and Bonnie lead through their example, inspiring others to support donation in ways that are meaningful for them. For their humble leadership, we are grateful.

Donor Registry Impact Award
Deb Carlson, Driver Exam Program Manager, Northern District   

Driver’s license offices are our most important partner when it comes to registering donors. That is why partners like Deb are critical to our life-saving mission. 

Deb Carlson is the Driver Exam Program Manager for the Northern District of Minnesota and has been an incredible partner of LifeSource for many years. Deb is always going above and beyond to help move forward ideas and initiatives within the Department of Public Safety in support of our mission. She has been instrumental in various projects to help increase donor registration through the years and it is because of people like Deb that over 90% of registrations continue to occur at the DMV.  

Thank you for your incredible partnership!

Founder’s Award
Susan Gunderson, LifeSource CEO Emeritus

After 33 years of leading LifeSource as the Founder and CEO, Susan Gunderson retired in March 2022. It is our privilege to honor her with the Founder’s Award, a special award to recognize individuals who were instrumental in making LifeSource the organization that it is today.  

It has truly been a unique privilege for all of us to work with Susan. She has been a visionary leader from the moment she accepted the call to lead LifeSource. The accomplishments during her tenure are significant and profound and her legacy reaches across International borders.

Thanks to Susan’s work and commitment, LifeSource has reached incredible milestones and achievements that have touched the lives of thousands. We are grateful, humbled and privileged to continue Susan’s legacy of leadership.