Jill Zuleg knows her son Kyle was a hero. Before he died on Oct. 19, 2010, seven of Kyle’s organs were harvested so that those in need of transplants might live. Five people received Kyle’s organs.
was 16 years old when on Oct. 16, 2010, during a family camping trip in the Messenger Woods, a tree branch that weighed nearly one ton struck him. Kyle was often seen wearing his green “Give Life” organ donation bracelet and his parents knew that he would want to help others, so they made the decision to donate their son’s organs.
The donation process, which took some time, was difficult for his parents to endure, but Jill Zuleg knew that it was the right thing to do. An obstetrics nurse, she wanted to do something to comfort other families going through the difficult, but life-giving, process.
Looking for a way to honor her son and deal with her grief, Jill Zuleg had the idea of creating blankets for families going through the donation process. She wanted other families who made the decision to be comforted. In August, the first blanket was given to a family at , she said.
“It’s been very, very healing for us to reach out and help other people,” she said. “That was the kind of kid [Kyle] was. He was very kind and lovable. … This helps us to tell his story and help others through our tragedy.”
After his death, The Kyle Zuleg Foundation, a nonprofit, was started and the family received many donations. After things settled down, Jill Zuleg said the family began to consider what they might do with the money.
The family decided on a two-fold mission for the foundation. The first goal is to promote organ donation and support donor families by distributing blankets monogrammed with the phrase “Forever in Our Hearts” to families going through the process. The other goal of the foundation is to provide scholarships for area high school graduates pursuing a media communications degree. Kyle had wanted to be a sports broadcaster.
Last year, scholarship funds were given to students from , the school Kyle attended, but the family is expanding the scholarship program to include students graduating from high schools in and , she said.
For now, the foundation is working with Edward Hospital to distribute the blankets to local donor families, Jill Zuleg said. The hospital provides families of donors with a basket of nutritional items and the foundation provides the blanket along with a card, Zuleg said. After the first blanket was distributed, the recipient family was moved to keep it with their child at her funeral, she said.
Another blanket was recently given to another donor family and Jill Zuleg said she met mother who was very grateful.
“They need someone to show them support,” she said. “We need to reach out to these families so they don’t quit [the donation process.]”
Jill Zuleg said one of the organ recipients reached out to the family and they met. The recipient received a kidney and Kyle’s pancreas. The woman who had been a diabetic no longer suffers from the disease and is insulin free, Jill Zuleg said.
“Meeting her and knowing what Kyle’s gift has done for her makes our missing easier,” she said.
As the foundation grows, Jill Zuleg said the hope is to distribute the blankets to donor families around the country in keeping with the mission: “Wrapping warmth, comfort and support around organ donor families one blanket at a time.”
To raise more money for the scholarships and the monogrammed blankets, the Kyle Zuleg Foundation will host a fundraiser from 7 to 11 p.m. Nov. 19. About 150 people have responded so far. Jill Zuleg is hoping for a strong turn out of at least 300.
The event will be held at the . The emcee for the evening is CBS 2 news reporter Dave Savini. There will be food, drinks and sweets. Raffles will also be held, and in honor of Kyle—who was a huge Green Bay Packers fan—there will be a lot of Packers gear given away.
Jill Zuleg said that while Kyle went through a lot in the days before he died, “my husband always said [Kyle] was never in a hurry to go anywhere.
“He was a hero and he helped people have better, healthier lives. … I hope those people live many happy years.”
To learn more about the Kyle Zuleg Foundation, visit KyleShinesOn.org. Tickets to the family-friendly event can be purchased at that website for $40 for adults 21 and older and $20 for people younger than 21. A limited number of tickets will be available at the door. A representative from the Illinois Secreatary of State's Office will be on hand to provide information on the organ donation registration process.