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After losing his wife, Charlene, when she suffered a pulmonary embolism on Dec. 21, 2007, Al Wright was in a state of shock. “When you lose your wife that quickly, you don’t realize what’s happening,” he said.
Charlene, 62, had been able to give the gift of life by donating both kidneys, her liver, her corneas and her tissue, but Al wanted another way to honor her and all the people who are waiting for a new organ.
In 2011, he began organizing a southern gospel concert at his church to raise awareness for organ donation. He paid for the band himself — meticulously researching and planning the event, and using his contacts to procure bigger and bigger talent as the years progressed — and donated proceeds from the freewill offering to UW Organ and Tissue Donation.
"It’s the least I could do,” says Al, who has been in contact with all three of the men who received Charlene’s organs. “When you get a phone call from a fellow who says he would have died if it had not been for Charlene, you have to continue to help other people, too."
Charlene would have wanted that, too.
Over the span of 30 years, she shaped the lives of more than 50 children at her home daycare in Barneveld, Wis., and she never missed a school function for any of her 12 grandchildren. She was known as “Grandma Charlene” to many in her hometown. “There were so many people who loved her because she was generous and caring,” said Al, now 74.
These days, he still works full-time as a livestock feed dealer. Three years ago, he retired after 35 years of serving as a volunteer Emergency Medical Technician-Intermediate. He still thinks about Charlene every day, but remains passionate about the power of organ donation.
“Knowing that Charlene was helping others live put some sense of reason to her untimely death,” Al said.