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The gift of life

Mother’s accidental death leads daughter to become advocate for organ donations


Holly Kluver, a volunteer for the LifeSource organ/tissue procurement organization, holds a photograph of her mother, Corrine Stein, who died in a bicycle accident which was followed by a family decision to donate her organs to help save other lives. Photo by Steve Palmer

It’s been nearly six years since a bicycle ride down a country road ended up claiming a mother’s life and inspired the thinking of her daughter to become a volunteer for the LifeSource organ/tissue donor organization in an educational effort to explain the importance of donations and help save other lives.

For Holly Kluver, of Farmington, talking about or explaining the words “organ,” “tissue,” or “donor” and connecting them with her mom in the same sentence never entered her mind.

But in the summer of 2009 that all changed.

Her mom, Corrine Stein, 58, became an organ, eye and tissue donor when a bicycle ride with her family turned tragic. There was no special destination that day in July 2009, just a short distance up the road near their rural Morris farm place.

And then in a moment, Holly’s mom and her bike were on the ground. Her days of enjoying collecting antiques with her husband Arnie, planting flowers, baking, volunteering and being a generous, active member of her church making rugs and sewing quilts were finished.

“They were having fun when suddenly my mom swerved and fell off the bike, hitting her head on the pavement about a quarter mile from the farm home,” Holly recalled.

Emergency personnel came and took an unconscious Corrine to the hospital and soon she was airlifted to the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Later, when all the family had gathered at the hospital, they were informed by a team of doctors that Corrine would not survive her head injury. “She was on a ventilator. Her body was alive but her brain was dead,” said Holly. “I recall seeing my dad’s reaction when he saw her at the hospital. He was heartbroken…they’d been married for 39 years.”

Through the tears of sorrow the family said their goodbyes. But before the machines were going to be shut off they were approached about organ/tissue donation and asked to visit with a donor coordinator.

“We were like, ‘I don’t know,’ and after some quick education about the subject by a LifeSource representative, we all agreed it would be something our mom would want us to do – give until the very end,” Holly noted.

Still, it was a difficult decision to make because Holly’s mom wasn’t registered as a donor on her driver’s license. “Everybody was dealing with a different state of grief and shock and then my brother Jon, who was riding bike along with mom at the time of the accident, said, ‘I think we should do this, she was always giving of her time to others,’” Holly added.

Arnie signed the donor papers so testing could begin as to what organs were eligible to be gifted. “To be an organ donor, you have to be at a hospital that is capable of handling gifting…you have the doctors who are there trying to save lives and then there are the recovery team doctors,” she said.

Holly said a family can say what organs or tissue they want donated, but there is a certain window of time required in order to take organs, with the heart and lungs being the shortest amount of time (six hours) to be successfully transplanted, while tissue grafts can be stored up to five years.

Helping others

Corrine gave life back to a woman in her 60s who received a kidney and her liver, and a man in his 30s received the other kidney. Someone else had a cornea transplant, and countless others benefited from her gift of bone and tissue.

“Since that time, there hasn’t been a day gone by that I don’t think of her,” Holly said. “She was an awesome lady that made every day special by sharing her talents, even at the end of her life,” Holly reflected.

With that in mind, Holly decided she wanted to help deliver the message about donating life when she became a volunteer in 2010 for LifeSource, an organ procurement organization founded in 1989 and based in Minneapolis serving Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Wisconsin.

Since then she has shared her mom’s story working information booths at the Minnesota State Fair education building, at her church, or going to various events and student driver’s education classes located in Farmington and Brunsville.

She walks in parades, visits DMVs, hosts an information table at Metro State Health Fair twice a year and has served on the Donor Family Council at LifeSource.

“There is a Minnesota law that requires drivers education students to have 30 minutes of classroom learning about the importance of organ and tissue donation,” explained Holly. “I’m partnered with a donor heart recipient ,which makes it even more of a special impact when we talk about the importance of becoming a donor.”

As a dedicated advocate for getting the word out to all age groups, she has discovered at many of her presentations to the elderly population that they are not as well informed about the donor subject.

Holly says she has a passion for one-on-one conversation with older people about LifeSource’s mission. “I encourage them to become donors. Some aren’t aware that all major religions support donation and that there are no age restriction. The oldest known donor is a 92-year-old male,” she stated. “People who think they’re too old or not healthy enough to be donors shouldn’t count themselves out. And there are no medical expenses associated with the donation.”

Holly said one of the common myths or questions she hears when giving a presentation or working at an information booth is about how donating organs affects funeral arrangements for the deceased.

“Actually, you can have an open casket. There’s no visible signs of donation as the best surgical effort is made by the tissue recovery people, and cremation has become a more accepted practice now than from years ago,” she commented.

Holly said that her family’s decision to donate Corrine’s organs and tissue has helped them with the healing process of her loss. “Part of my mom is living on in others and that’s a nice legacy to leave behind,” she said. “It’s also allowed me to make a connection with a lot of other daughters who have lost a mom when I go out and speak to groups. If I can help somebody by discussing what I’ve learned through donating organs then I’ve accomplished something too.”

Holly acknowledged that the thought of organ/tissue donation is not for everyone. However, she said the effort should be made to at least think about it and then share the decision with loved ones so they are prepared at the time of death.

“If you decide to become a donor you are making a legal decision that will become an opportunity to save and heal up to 60 lives. It only takes a couple of minutes to sign up or just put a quick check in the box on the organ donors line of your driver’s license application,” she explained.

The national waiting list of those in need of an organ transplant is well over 100,000. Holly is convinced that the key to making the number go down is education, which she is dedicated to provide to the public.

“My mom completed her mission on earth and then left some wonderful life-changing gifts to others. Her donations or organs/tissue helped someone else live another day, have another walk in the park or get a second chance to tell somebody ‘I love you.’”

You can find more information, including how to register, online at or by phone at 888-536-6283.

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