CHICAGO -- Melissa Thielen was the kind of person her friends and family could count on for anything. But even in death, her generous spirit lives on in the dozens of lives she touched as an organ donor.
Like many families, the 37-year-old mom spent the Sunday after Thanksgiving picking out a Christmas tree with her husband Joe and 10-year-old daughter Avery in northwest suburban Carpentersville.
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"It was the perfect day," her sister-in-law Sarah DeLoncker recalled. But hours later, the avid runner was gasping for breath. An undetected aneurysm had ruptured in her brain.
Her husband called 911, but the damage done to her brain was too severe to recover. She passed away the following day at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge.
"She was the most amazing, caring, beautiful woman I've ever known," DeLoncker told ABC 7 Chicago. "I just wish we had the chance to say goodbye."
As her family struggles to cope with her unexpected death, they are taking some comfort in knowing that seven of her organs have been donated to five people awaiting transplants. Her tissue will also help enhance dozens of other lives, according to the Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.
DeLoncker said she wasn't surprised to learn that her sister-in-law was an organ donor. Thielen had even shared a video on her Facebook page about organ donation less than a month before she died.
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Thielen's family hopes sharing her story will raise awareness of brain aneurysms, as well as inspire others to register as organ donors.
While it's too soon to know whose lives were impacted by her donation, Thielen's family hopes they will have the opportunity to meet them one day.
Find more info on how you can join the Illinois organ and tissue donor registry.