NATIONAL DONATE LIFE MONTH-NEW MILFORD, CT - NEW MILFORD FAMILY PROMOTES ORGAN DONATION
Source: News Times
NEW MILFORD -- Out with his mother when she went to get a new driver's license, 8-year-old Joey Wohlschlaeger asked about the heart stamped on the card just above her picture.
Janis Wohlschlaeger explained the heart meant in case of a fatal injury she wanted her organs donated to someone who needed them to live.
"He looked up at me and said, `Why wouldn't someone want to do that?''' Wohlschlaeger remembered of her late son, a child who had special needs but was particularly compassionate toward others.
Wohlschlaeger did not want to discuss the details, but three years later, in December 2005, Joey was placed on life support atConnecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford after trying to commit suicide.
Despite their grief, Wohlschlaeger and her husband, Ron, knew what their 11-year-old son would want them to do when it became apparent he would not survive. They felt it imperative to have some good come from their tragedy.
"He had a true heart of gold,'' the Wohlschlaegers said about the young boy who loved to fish, played with frogs, and was devoted to his constant companion, Trixie, a golden retriever.
April is National Donate Life month and in observance New Milford Library is displaying a 20-square panel of the New England regional "Loving Squares Donor Family Quilt,'' which includes a piece crafted by Janis Wohlschlaeger.
Although she's not a quilter, Wohlschlaeger said she hand-stitched a square for the regional quilt and similar square for a national quilt a few months after Joey died. This is the first time one has been shown locally.
The square has a photo of Joey and his dog, Trixie, on a background of golden retriever print fabric, along with appliques of a baseball, fishing and frogs.
In the four years since Joey's death, the Wohlschlaegers have promoted the life-saving cause of organ donation for the Donate Life Connecticut organization, sharing their story at hospitals, health fairs and schools.
Their daughter, Veronica, now 19, regularly checks her friends' licenses to be sure they are organ donors, her mother said.
Janis says the family made the organ donation decision with heartache.
"It was a very hard thing to accept,'' Ron Wohlschlaeger said, as tears welled in his eyes.
"The process seemed to take forever," Janis said of the search to find appropriate recipients for Joey's organs, but caring doctors, nurses and organ donation specialists stayed at their side, explaining the delays.
Joey's left kidney went to a 41-year-old man, his right kidney to a 24-year-old man, his liver to a 45-year-old man, and his heart to a 71-year-old woman.
The family wanted to help save the life of children, but because Joey was tall, with an athletic build, his organs were more suited to adults, his parents said.
Janis was able to resolve that in her mind by recognizing "everyone is someone's child."
"My then 14-year-old daughter was heartbroken" that all the donations went to adults, she said. "But I explained that this could be for her grandmother or her father.''
To this day, Janis said she cannot resist a smile when she thinks of a 71-something woman "leaping'' about thanks to Joey's preteen heart.
New Milford Library assistant Leslie Schlemmer, a champion of the quilt project and organ donation, said she is alive today because she was the recipient of a donated liver eight years ago.
"There are over 104,000 people waiting on transplant lists. To be the lucky one to receive a transplant is a godsend,'' said Schlemmer, who with her husband, John, has two sons -- Andy, 22, and Mike, 19.
Schlemmer met the Wohlschlaegers because of the quilt project and is awed by their story.
"I'm so humbled by donors," she said.
The Loving Squares Family Donor Quilt is on display with information about organ donation in the lower level of New Milford Library through mid-May. For hours, call the library at 860-355-1191.