Still helping others
When Donnie Schuelke was killed in a car accident last June at age 18, those who knew him spoke of a young man who enjoyed helping others.
Over 16 months later, Schuelke continues to help others via the organ donor program.
When Schuelke passed his behind-the-wheel driver's test in Marshall four years ago, he filled out the required paperwork at the DMV in Marshall that would enable him to obtain his license.
When it came to the question asking if he wanted to be an organ donor, he turned to his mother, who had accompanied him, for an explanation.
“Donnie asked me what it meant to be an organ donor and I explained it to him,” Julie Schuelke recalled.
“Then he looked at me and said, 'Why wouldn't everyone want to be'?”
With little or no hesitation, Donnie checked the box enabling him to become an organ donor. Donald “Donnie” Mark Schuelke IV was killed at 4:40 a.m. on Sunday, June 25 in a single-vehicle rollover on his way home from a rodeo in Clear Lake, SD, that was also attended by several other Minneota students.
Because his family rarely missed attending church, Donnie had decided to make the late-hour drive home to Minneota in order to join them for worship. Donnie, who had graduated from Minneota High School just weeks before the accident, apparently fell asleep at the wheel and crossed the center line west of Canby along Highway 68.
The 1995 Ford Explorer that he was driving then went into the ditch on the north side of the highway and rolled over several times.
Although the vehicle’s airbag deployed, Donnie was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
When the Schuelke family was preparing their home for Donnie’s graduation, they moved a clock from the living room where they were painting, to their bedroom.
“When the accident happened, we still hadn’t moved the clock back to the living room,” Julie noted. “The (battery-operated) clock stopped working at 4:40 a.m.; the same time as the accident.”
Because Donnie’s body wasn't located immediately after the accident, the major organs in his body such as his heart, kidney, liver and lungs, were unable to be used as donors. “The American Donor Services was still able to harvest many of his other organs,” Julie told.
“They can use the organs for up to five years. We told them to take whatever they could use. That’s what Donnie would have wanted.”
Within a month of the accident, the Schuelkes received a letter from Lions Eye Institute, which works cooperatively with American Donor Services, informing them that their son’s corneas had been used for two different recipients.
“We don't know who the recipients are,” Julie said. “But it's awesome to know that Donnie has helped someone else.”
The family also received a large impressive-looking medal from Lions Eye Institute. The medal features two hands holding a heart with a rose in the center.
The inscription reads: Gift For Life Donor above the heart and Organ Eye Tissue Donor below the heart.
“We aren’t sure what we’re going to do with the medal,” Julie said.
“We could have it put on his stone at the cemetery, or we could keep it here. We haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”
After the one-year anniversary of Donnie’s accident, the family requested and received notification from American Donor Services in the form of a letter that there have been 70 recipients across the country that have been given various organs from Donnie.
The letter stated: “We are pleased to be able to provide you with some feedback as to how Donald’s donation is restoring lives.” “We are able to share that to date, 70 tissue and bone allografts have been used thus far in life-restoring surgeries.
Together, these include two bypass operations, three knee/sports procedures, and 67 spine-related surgeries.” “It is our hope that you are given some comfort to learn through tissue donation, the lives of others of all ages and from all walks of life are improved.
The recipients reside in 11 different states; Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington state. On behalf of those, we extend our greatest appreciation.”
“We were told that two men received heart valves from Donnie that were used during heart transplants,” Julie noted.
“They aren’t allowed to tell you the name of the recipient or the city they are from, but we were told one is a 54-year-old male in California and the other is a 56-year-old male in Florida.”
Among Donnie’s other donated organs, there were also eight recipients for connective tissue organs that were used for sports-related injuries.
Skin tissue, long bones and veins are among some of Donnie’s other organs that were harvested.
Donnie IV, who was better known to family and friends as “Little Donnie” lived on a farm one mile south of Minneota with his father Donald III, often referred to as “Big Donnie”, and mother Julie, as well as his triplet younger brothers Logan, Josh and Carter.
Little Donnie was interred in the St. James Catholic Cemetery in Dawson, next to his uncle, Mark Schuelke. Mark was the younger brother of Little Donnie’s father, Donnie III, known as “Big Donnie”.
Mark was also killed in an automobile accident at age 21. His name was used for Little Donnie’s middle name.
“(Big) Donnie’s family lived in Dawson and when we were first married, we lived there for a while, too,” said Julie.
“We bought a plot at the St. James Cemetery there for all of us.” The Schuelkes were given a gift certificate from Little Donnie’s graduating class and their parents to Greenwood Nursery in Marshall to be used for a memorial garden on their property in honor of their son and brother.
The memorial garden has been started and, when completed, will feature landscape rock, lilac bushes, flowers, two weeping willow trees, a fire pit, wooden bench swing and a wooden seat bench that Little Donnie built in shop class at school.
“The 2017 graduating class at Canby gave us an engraved stepping stone that we are going to put out there, too,” said Julie. “Many of the Canby kids knew him from 4-H and FFA.”
“That swing is the one thing that reminds me of him the most,” said Big Donnie.
“So we want to include it in the memorial garden.” Not a day goes by that the family doesn’t think of the upbeat and happy boy their son and brother was.
“He was such a good kid,” Big Donnie said proudly, while trying to hold his emotions in check.
“He always had a smile on his face and didn’t seem to let things bother him too much.”
Julie said that while it’s still hard to believe her son is gone, she is able to stay positive through her faith. “I stay as positive as I can because I know I’ll see him again one day,” she said.
“I could choose to not be happy, but I choose to be happy.” The Schuelkes are adamant about getting the message out to others to become organ donors.
“It’s a passion of mine,” Julie said. “I encourage everyone on the fence to find out more information about it, talk to others, or talk to a recipient. The impact a donor can have is huge.”
In order for the family to meet any of the recipients of their son’s organs, they must first put in a request with American Donor Services, who in turn, contact the local donor chapter where the transplant took place.
The recipient is then contacted to see if they are willing to provide contact information to the donor’s family. Or, an organ recipient can request to meet the donor’s family.
In that case, ADS would contact the donor’s family to see if they are willing to reveal their contact information. “I would like to meet some of the recipients when I’m ready,” said Julie.
“I think it’s utterly amazing that Donnie’s organs are helping people all over the nation. Words just can’t express how exciting it is for me to know he is helping others.”
“I would especially like to meet the people that received Donnie’s corneas. I want to look into my son’s eyes again,” said Big Donnie.
“And I’ve heard that organ donors can take on a part of the personality of the person they received the organ from. I would like to see if anyone has a part of Donnie’s personality.”
“If any of the recipients are happy and fun-loving with a passion for helping others, they likely have taken on a part of Little Donnie’s personality already.”