MOUNT VERNON — On, Aug. 21, 1994, Bege Wiegman and her family received “the phone call from hell.” Her eldest son, Luke, was in a motorcycle accident and had suffered severe head trauma. Three days later, Luke died, forever changing the Wiegman family.
Bege, her husband, Denny, and their two sons, Joel and Bret, continue to be a close family and have learned firsthand that life could come from death.
“[Luke] never knew a stranger. He was always smiling,” said Bege Wiegman. “He was just an amazing person: a scholar athlete, never knew a stitch, and never broke a bone. He was just a neat kid.”
His kindness in life continued after his death through the donation of his heart, liver, pancreas, one kidney and bone marrow — donations that were used to save the lives of many others.
Wiegman learned through her position as chaplain for Riverside Methodist Hospital “the gift of life that could be gotten as a result of death.”
“As chaplain, we are involved with every death in the hospital, and we are in the process of whether a family will choose to donate or not. There I began to see a great need for donation,” she said.
Because of her experience, Wiegman was able to discuss with her family the significance of being a donor. With that knowledge, her family also saw the need, and became donors.
“When our sons each got their driver’s license, they came home with a donor sticker on it. And our son, Luke, was very proud of the fact that he became a donor,” said Wiegman.
As a paramedic and firefighter for 10 years, Wiegman understood, not only from her work as a chaplain, but also from a medical standpoint, the extent of trauma injuries. Through donating, she said, a precious life can be saved and hope given.
“I call [donating] the ultimate resurrection because it can give life to other people,” she said. “Being a pastor, I see the gift of life as part of what we are all called to do as Christians — to give life whenever possible and to give love. It was a gift of love and life that Luke gave.”
Giving the gift of life and being able to help so many people, said Wiegman, has helped the family through its difficult time. Now she works with Lifeline of Ohio as an advocate, speaking on the importance of organ and tissue donation. Each year, her family makes it a point to run the Dash for Donation race — a half-marathon, 5K run/walk or 1K fun walk — in memory of Luke.
“As with donating, one of the barriers for some people is, it’s very difficult to talk about death, in general. One needs to talk about death if they are going to talk about donation,” said Wiegman, adding that because death is not discussed, the decision of donating can come at an emotional time for some people.
“I would encourage people to think about donation before they may need to use it. And for people to tell their family their interest, because it’s a wonderful gift,” said Wiegman.
While working in the hospital, she was with many families that had to make the decision whether to be a donor.
“It was the family’s decision; we very much honored the fact if the family said ‘no.’ We’re not there to persuade or convince them,” she said. “I think the hardest part about being a donor is for the donor family to understand that their loved one has died. The organs will not be donated, will not be given to someone else, unless their loved one has died.”
Many people are fearful of the process of donating, she said, and through her work, she was able to educate families about it.
“You can have an open casket funeral, the body will be treated with respect, and everything has been done that can be done to keep your loved one alive,” she said. “There is no mutilation of the body. The removal of the organs and tissues is a surgical procedure.”
Lifeline of Ohio, a Donate Life organization, reports that “a single donor potentially can save the lives of eight people and enhance the lives of up to 50 more by donating vital organs (heart, two lungs, two kidneys, liver, pancreas and small bowel) and tissue (corneas, bone, fascia, skin, veins and heart valves).” For more information visit www.lifelineohio.org.
“I encourage people to give the gift of life, and to give the gift of hope out of a situation that is very painful,” said Wiegman.