Run for life

Donation fund gives blankets to dialysis patients to increase awareness

Registered nurse Alicia Rice, left, helps Amy Harju, director of the Upper Peninsula Run for Life, and Jim LaJoie, executive director of the Superior Health Foundation, organize gift bags at the Fresenius Dialyiss facility in Marquette on Thursday. Dialysis patients in the central U.P. will receive one of 168 fleece blankets embroidered with the Run for Life logo. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Run for Life Organ Donation Fund administrators are generating warmth for the holidays in more ways than one.

The organization began giving blankets embroidered with its logo to dialysis patients in the central U.P. during a launch event on Thursday at Fresenius Kidney Care dialysis center.

Run For Life Race Director Amy Harju said 168 blankets will be distributed in the next couple of weeks to patients in Escanaba, Houghton, Iron Mountain and Marquette.

“It’s a nice little gift around the holidays, when you are going through something that isn’t necessarily a fun thing,” Harju said. “We hope that it puts a little smile on thier face.”

It’s not by accident that dialysis patients will be the recipients of the blankets either.

Patients whose kidneys are no longer functioning have two alternatives, an organ transplant or dialysis – and patients are often on a transplant waiting list for years, Harju said.

Alicia Rice, a hemodialysis nurse at Fresenius said patients visit the clinic three times per week and stay three to four hours at a time for treatment.

“It’s not a fun procedure, they have needles put into their arm. They come here to get their blood cleaned because their kidneys stop working,” Rice said. “They have fluid and toxins build up in their system, and they need to come here to save their life. They don’t have a choice, they either come here (to dialysis) or they die. The alternative to coming here is a transplant, and that is what Amy is hoping to draw awareness to.”

Since its inception in 2012 the annual Run for Life run/walk event has raised $27,294.12 to offset out of pocket costs incurred by organ donors and recipients, said Jim LaJoie, executive director of the Superior Health Foundation.

Transplant recipients are permitted to apply for a grant to help cover the out-of-pocket expenses relative to medical costs, prescription and mileage expenses up to $1,000 annually. Potential organ donors can apply for a maximum award of $500 in assistance with travel expenses, according to the Superior Health Foundation webpage.

“When people are going through the organ donation process, whether they are a donor or a recipient, there are a lot of costs that go into that,” LaJoie said. “Medical transportation costs, food, lodging…that’s where our fund comes into play. Because there is enough stress already during that, we want to alleviate some of the financial stress and that’s why this fund was created.”

LaJoie noted that the transplant process is made more expensive by the fact that it is not done anywhere locally, resulting in organ donors and recipients being forced to travel to places like the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and sometimes even farther away.

“Often we take for granted our working body parts, and sometimes we don’t think about organs or organ donations,” LaJoie said. “But it’s real – we have seen people whose lives have been really impacted by that.”

While the proceeds of the Run For Life event each summer provides the bulk of the money raised for the fund, the organization seeks donations year-round.

“You could also contribute to the fund as a tax deductible gift for the Superior Health Foundation as well,” LaJoie said. “When you give to this fund you are essentially saving a life, and you are helping people in that journey to better themselves.”

Anyone interested in donating to the Run For Life fund or submitting an application for a grant is asked to visit, email:, or call (906)225-6914.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is