A selfless mother painfully donates her daughter’s organs to help strangers in need
Olivia Rae Swedberg (second from left) with her parents and younger sister.
Caring and smart, Lauressa Swedberg of North Platte, Nebraska, was always the strongest one of her three sisters. As a young girl, she’d make dinner and take care of her younger sister, Quincy, because her drug-addicted mother lacked the skills to be a loving parent. At age 19, she counselled abandoned children about the importance of courage since she knew what it was like to work and live on her own as a teenager. But when she was told that her three-year-old daughter had an inoperable brain tumor, the 31-year-old mother-of-two was devastated. She began thinking of the suffering of other mothers who were facing similar challenges, so in the weeks leading up to Olivia’s death, Lauressa and her husband Brock agreed to share their little girl’s organs with strangers. When Olivia Rae Swedberg was pronounced brain dead on June 30, 2015, doctors rushed to harvest her organs to save the lives of four people and give sight to one other. Her liver was given to two-year-old Lucas Goeller, small intestines to four-year-old Angelo Giorno, heart to 22-month-old KeVon Long and kidneys to 22-year-old Scott Saunders. One of her corneas was transplanted to a yet unidentified person.
Lucas Goeller, who was a beneficiary of Olivia’s liver, in the hospital.
Olivia’s mother Lauressa (middle) with Scott Saunders (left), who received Olivia’s kidneys, and his wife.
KeVon Long, who received Olivia’s heart, with his mother.
A Daddy’s Girl
While Lauressa’s life has been enriched by the many people she has met or connected with since her daughter’s death, she still cries “at the most random times” because she misses Olivia. Olivia was her firstborn. Married in 2004, she waited seven years before getting pregnant. Lauressa and Brock first wanted to buy a house and be financially prepared. Being pregnant was a “magical feeling”, she said. “She was a daddy’s girl. She got pride out of helping out – emptying the dishwasher or organising his nails and screws in the tool shed. She loved playing with my hair, colour and draw and was strong-willed and emotional like me.”
Losing Her Balance
In February 2015, when one-year-old Sophie, her second child, was diagnosed with deafness in her right ear, the family took both children to the capital city of Omaha, Nebraska for testing. They didn’t uncover Olivia’s tumor. However, by April 2015, she was beginning to lose her balance. She’d run into walls and kept falling. While at a working luncheon, the babysitter called Lauressa saying that Olivia “won’t stop crying, that she’s complaining of a headache and is very tired.” On May 6, Olivia had an MRI scan under anesthesia and the next day she was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an incurable brain tumor that affects only children. It affected only her brain, no other organs. “The neurosurgeon said he couldn’t remove the tumor and told me to talk to the oncologist,” Lauressa recalled. “I knew there was a zero per cent survival rate for her cancer and we couldn’t imagine putting her through chemotherapy and radiation at age three.” Within a week, Olivia couldn’t speak clearly anymore. She started having trouble holding anything in her hands, her right side became paralysed and she could no longer walk. On June 22, the family went on one last trip together – a Disney cruise in the Caribbean. Olivia was by then so ill, and enjoyed very little of it. She did manage to kick her left leg when she tried to swim with the dolphins and grab Mickey Mouse’s hand. However, the trip was cut short and Olivia was airlifted to a Florida hospital with a collapsed left lung.
A Heartbreaking Goodbye
When Olivia left the Florida hospital, it was to be hospitalised in Nebraska where she would die a few days later. After Olivia’s funeral, Lauressa was messaged on social media by Scott Saunders’ girlfriend. “I think my fiance got Olivia’s kidneys,” she told her. She was also messaged by Vonkeisha Long, the mother of 22-monthold KeVon Long. “My son got your daughter’s heart,” she said. “Thank you.” Lauressa is “forever bonded” to the families that have her daughter’s organs. “I was the blessed one to have this opportunity to see her through these three years,” she said. “She couldn’t do the things that three-year-olds do, but her life made a difference.”
I was the blessed one to have this opportunity to see her through these three years – Lauressa