Angie Larson-Coleman lived life with a weak but very full heart
Four months after her unexpected death, Angie Larson and a cause close to her heart were the subjects of a candlelight vigil in Birkmose Park Good Friday evening. More than 35 people attended in remembrance of her and their shared commitment to organ donation.
Larson-Coleman was born with a congenital heart condition and was a candidate for an eventual heart transplant. But on Jan. 15, just weeks before she was scheduled to have her current pacemaker replaced, she died when the device failed.
Larson-Coleman attended school in Hudson and graduated from Hudson High School in 2001. From the time she was born, she and her mother, Dawn, were not only mother and daughter but were each other's best friend and confidante, something that never changed even after both married last year.
Every day since her daughter's death has been difficult for Dawn Franzmeier, but the memories of a girl filled with life and compassion for others help her get through each day. She has a scrapbook filled with letters, notes, souvenirs and photos of the big and little events that made up her daughter's life. They include a photo of Angie in a Halloween costume taken in the hospital following her first pacemaker surgery at age 5.
"She begged the doctors to let her go trick or treating, and somehow she convinced them. I pulled together a costume and she and the head nurse went all over the hospital getting candy from the blood tech and anybody she ran into. She could be very persuasive," said Franzmeier.
As a child, Angie kept her condition a private matter, not wanting to be thought of as sick or different from her peers. But just before Christmas in 1996 she was told that she would likely need a heart transplant. Together, she and her mother decided it was time to share their secret.
The news of a transplant threw both women, but in typical fashion, Angie set about to learn as much about organ transplants as she could. While the survival statistics startled her at first, what really shocked the then 13-year-old was that seven-10 people die every day waiting for a donated organ.
"She just couldn't get over that, and she immediately wanted to try to do something about it, not just because she would need a heart someday but to help all those people like her who died waiting. From that time on, we both have been committed to raising awareness about organ donation and hopefully getting more people to make the commitment to do it," said Franzmeier.
Since then, mother and daughter, along with other family members and friends, have raised money through concerts and other benefits to launch their own campaign to promote organ donation in St. Croix County, especially during April - national Donate Life Month. Every year since 1998, they have sent information from Life Source, a Twin Cities organization that promotes organ donation, to 15 county newspapers and 150 churches in the county.
Franzmeier says that since that time, organ donation has steadily risen in St. Croix County to the point where it now has the highest donation rate in the state. Franzmeier, who now lives in Osceola, said this April she has expanded her mailing to include 100 additional addresses in Polk County. "It's something Angie would want me to continue to do."
Franzmeier said her daughter spent little time dwelling on the negative aspects of her health, but chose instead to make something positive come from her experience. Throughout her years at school in Hudson, she volunteered at the YMCA, promoted organ donation at area health fairs and was a regular volunteer at Gillette Children's Hospital in St. Paul. She became one of the first members of the Children's Hospital "Encourage" program designed to match teenagers who live with serious health issues with other children just learning to come to terms with their own diagnosis. For several years Gillette sent a taxicab every Tuesday to pick Angie up so she could spend time with their young patients.
Living a full life
Health issues didn't dominate Angie's life. A passion for music of all styles was a big part of her life. Since age 13, she received a call every week from a Twin Cities radio station that asked her to rate new songs they played. She attended more than 39 concerts over the years, and whenever her spirits needed lifting, she would crank up the music. In a 1997 interview with the Star-Observer about living with her condition, Angie said, "On days when Mom is down, I just hug her. When it's really bad we just turn up some music really loud and dance like crazy."
Franzmeier also has her daughter to thank for finding her husband, Brian, for her. Without telling her mother, Angie put an ad in the Yahoo personals that read, "Princess looking for a prince."
"An actual prince from Greece responded, but so did Brian, and he is wonderful. Angie did the same thing for her uncle."
Franzmeier said she speaks with her son-in-law, Leon, daily. They talk to each other on breaks at work when Angie used to call them both. "It's so hard some days, but we're getting by. And I know where she is now is beautiful. She's let me know she's OK." For more information about organ donation, or to register as a donor, go to www.organdonor.gov and www.shareyourlife.org.