By Kay Stellpflug
Photography by Travis Pohl of E&M Photography
She calls them her tribe. The people who surround her, support her, and have added a dimension to life she never knew existed until she faced the death of her child. Dawn Lyons-Wood found new strength in herself through the strength of the tribe.
There are no words that can adequately address the loss of a child. One accident changes everything from that moment on. Emily Lyons, her 19-year-old daughter was gone.
Without words, actions are what is needed. That first brat fry and raffle put on by the Beaver Dam baseball and softball teams began the seed money for The Emily Lyons Memorial Scholarship. The Key Club Talent Show added almost 1,000 dollars that same year. The tribe began to form before Dawn knew she even needed one.
Dawn Lyons-Wood owes a lot to this band of people. “They allow me to function. They love my family. They support the cause and embrace us and keep Emily’s memory alive. And they never say no. They organize and attend and promote..” Dawn paused, only to feel their embrace in that moment.
Their names appear here, and there are more who have joined, or who are behind the scenes but are equally committed in spirit.
Sarah Lyons, Donna Endres, Denise Jumes, Judy Zimmerman, Donna Wood, Elle Callies, Chris Braemer, Michelle Beekman, Jackie Helmbreck, Heather Deakin, Heather Fietz, Megs Emanuel, Kelly Simon, Mollie Morningstar, Katie Hahn, Ali Bohn, Jill Weinberger, Tracy Chavez-Poppy, Lisa Goodrich, Kathy Warns, Lisa Reed.
Ari Weinberger-organizer of Emily’s Closet, Morgan Nickel- Founder of Emily’s Closet, Christine Monahan- UW OTD Social Worker, Carol Hay-UW OTD Outreach Specialist, Laura Braund-Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin, Desi Jimenez-Beaver Dam Lions Club, Barb Baumgartner-Emily’s Buddy Bench, Ashley Stobbe and Abby Butterbrodt-Emily Lyons memorial Golf Outing.
As a mom, Dawn Lyons-Wood was always proud of her three children and their accomplishments. When her eldest, Emily, signed up to be an organ donor as a new driver, of course Dawn was proud of her. Emily could not have imagined how that one conscious act of kindness and forethought would change the lives of thousands of people.
Just three years later, that gesture of sense of community would give new life to six organ recipients, while 60 others from 22 states received eye and other tissue. It would also create a bond between her family and the multitude of other donor families, and the volunteers around the community who gather together to honor her gift.
There is an award called the Crystal Vision Award. It is presented by the Lions Eye Bank of Wisconsin to people for their outstanding commitment and dedication to raising awareness for eye, organ and tissue donation. This year Emily’s mom received the award for selflessly turning her grief i
nto a mission of education and inspiration. Dawn said it was like being given an award for breathing.
She also remains convinced that none of the things she does could even be accomplished without the help of her tribe and the whole community. The impact has been widespread.
Those early events in Emily’s memory have turned into many fundraisers and events to create awareness and add donations to The Emily Lyons Scholarships and the University of Wisconsin Organ and Tissue Donation Education Fund.
A Ripple Effect is a situation in which one event causes a series of events to happen. The term is used widely and in the case of Emily Lyons signing a donor card, a series of events where set into motion. Those ripples have turned into waves.
The tribe called EMSTRONG has gone on to raise money and awareness and keep Emily’s memory alive in many ways. The Emily C. Lyons Scholarship has given out $11,000 since it began. A Buddy Bench was built by the woodshop in the high school and is located at Washington School. Team Emstrong has participated in the NAMI walk in Madison, the Donate Life Walk in Green Bay and volunteers at The Parkinson’s Half Marathon in Cottage Grove.
Locally two events have become popular. Emily’s Closet is a prom dress resale held each year at the Beaver Dam Middle School in March. The Annual Emily C. Lyons Golf Outing is coming up on Saturday, July 14th. The list goes on as the tribe continues to spread the word of organ donation.
“It is amazing to me that in Emily’s short time here she touched and inspired so many people that still touch and support us today,” reflected Mike Wood, Dawn’s husband who is her biggest support and is involved everything as well.
If there is any doubt about why this is an important issue, ask anyone who has ever received a donation of life. The mother of Emily’s heart recipient wrote this to Dawn. “We understand that someone had to pass in order for David to live. We are forever grateful to you and your family in m
aking that choice. A simple thank you is never enough. To give so selflessly for others to continue on is remarkable. I hope you all find comfort in knowing we as a whole family take very good care of Emily’ s heart.”
If you ask someone how their life has changed since the death of a child you instantly know the real question is ‘how it has not changed’. Lyons-Wood said, “Nothing is the same. The way we view life is different. I love harder, but at the same time I have become a little jaded. I don’t let the little things bother me as much, but at the same time I get angry when people can’t always see the beauty of the life they have been given.”
Emily’s siblings are moved by the degree to which people have stepped up and helped out. Sarah put it this way.
“I am overwhelmed, but in a good way. It’s nice knowing that people still care and are there for us three years later.” Brother Emmett added, “I am honored for everything people have done in Emily’s name. I couldn’t be prouder to be her brother.”
As for Dawn, she has found herself in a public speaking role she would have never imagined. Speaking to drivers ed classes, talking to nursing students on how to speak with families in similar situations, church group and clubs. The club that is near and dear to her heart is Lions Club. Emily was planning on going into optometry and intended to join the La Crosse Lions Club just before the accident. Dawn now is part of the Lions Cub transporter team.
Out of pain, and sacrifice has come the gift of life. One kind loving girl has made alterations to the universe. Ask any member of the tribe and they can tell you how life has changed.