A Winamac woman who turned a family tragedy into a crusade was recently recognized for her efforts by the Indianapolis Business Journal. Rhonda Berger is one of their Health Care Heroes. She is a volunteer and advocate for the Indiana Donor Network.
She talked to all three of her children about being organ donors when they got their learner permits, and all agreed to check the box. Berger’s 19-year-old daughter, Jennifer, was killed in a Fort Wayne apartment fire in 2009, and she chose to donate her organs.
Berger agreed to speak at a “Donate Life” event in Fort Wayne a few months after Jennifer’s death. That launched her legacy of advocacy telling her daughter’s story and helping other donor families through their grief.
Berger has also kept in touch with the recipients who got Jennifer’s kidneys. She’s quoted in the IBJ as saying, “It’s so comforting to know that Jennifer’s life didn’t just stop that day. She continues to make a difference. So many lives are changed by this. Not just the recipient, but their extended family.”
Berger commutes from Winamac to her job as a part-time nurse at IU Health Arnett Homecare in Lafayette. She also travels regularly to speaking events. Her surviving daughter has also assisted in her volunteer work. Berger told the publication it has helped her to cope with her sister’s death.
In addition to her public speaking engagements, Berger has chaired or helped to plan various Indiana Donor Network fundraising and awareness events. She also advises recipient families.
Berger represented Indiana donor families in the 2016 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. Jennifer’s likeness, made entirely of seeds and spices, was one of 60 “floragraphs” on the Donate Life float.
Berger also received a certificate recently from the Indiana Auditor of State Suzanne Crouch congratulating her on her honor.