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A University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumna who has touched countless lives in her nursing role as hospital coordinator/organ and tissue donation liaison is being honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award.

Photo courtesy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Dawn (Marrier) Auclair of Oshkosh, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1977, has worked at Mercy Medical Center over the past 40 years. She has coordinated organ donation for two decades and describes it as the most challenging, yet rewarding, work she has done in her career. As night shift coordinator, she works overnight hours beginning at 11 p.m.

“Dawn took an active role in coordinating organ and tissue donation early in her role as a hospital coordinator,” said nurses Dee Tallon and Denise Parrish, in a nomination letter to the award committee. “She quickly became passionate about organ donation and has led 100 percent of all donations for the last 20 years.”

Auclair has participated in end-of-life care of 38 donors and their families, whose generous gifts resulted in 110 life-saving organ transplants. An additional 23 organs were recovered for valuable research. She said she is a “little overwhelmed” with the numbers and had no idea her work impacted so many people.

Honoring donors
“Dawn realized when she began coordinating transplants that a defined process was badly needed so she created one,” Tallon and Parrish said. “Dawn developed a way for families to honor the donors during the painful wait time prior to the donor’s passing. She encourages the family to write the donor’s qualities and gifts that they will forever cherish on a white board often posted with a picture of the donor. She takes pictures and molds of the donor’s hands with the belief that ‘our hands tell our story.’”

Over the years, Auclair has designed and developed special memory kits that are given to every donor family.

Another special touch is the presentation of a handmade quilt provided by a local quilt guild that is lovingly placed on the donor during the process and given to the family after the donor passes.

Auclair arranges for the family to be with the donor when life support will be discontinued. Here, they can say a final goodbye with dignity and peace. Before the process is completed, a flag is raised in honor of the donor in the front of the hospital. Auclair decided to ask the families to participate and it has been very well received.

Courtney Shears, nurse manager of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Mercy Medical Center, said Auclair “makes it an absolute must to never lose sight of the person who is lying in the hospital bed that is about to be an organ donor.”

She said Auclair is meticulous with details and manages to personalize each case in a way that deeply touches the loved ones involved.

Acts of kindness
“She spends countless hours at the bedside ensuring everything is done to perfection,” Shears said. “She offers calming music, hand molds of the loved one’s hand, a locket of their hair, she takes hand photos of them holding hands (husband and wife, dad and daughter), she encourages that the family journal or write a poem, writes inspirational things on the patient’s board and provides a quilt.”

Support is unique to each family and situation.

Recently, Auclair encountered a family who shared that they didn’t have the financial means to have a funeral. She worked with the family to create a lovely personalized memorial service in the patient’s room in the ICU.

Auclair, on Thanksgiving Day 2015, requested a nurse at Mercy wear his dress military uniform and salute as an American flag was raised with a donor flag for a young male donor. The donor’s own military uniform was brought to the hospital, symbolizing his pride in his military service. She also arranged for a restaurant to deliver a Thanksgiving meal to the family of the patient.

The acts of kindness resulted in creation of a video called Living the Vision, that represented an award the team received.

Shears noted that Auclair is considered a leader in best practice by UW Organ Procurement Organization and others have learned from her.

Auclair has lead a team that received a number of honors and awards, including the Tissue Donation Recognition Award (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2016) presented by American Tissue Services Foundation; Award of Hope (2014, 2015) presented by the University of Wisconsin Organ Procurement Organization; and Family Care Award (2015) Mercy Medical Center was selected from a group of 104 hospitals to receive the prestigious award from the University of Wisconsin Organ Procurement Organization. The award is special to Auclair because it is for outstanding donor family care and support.

UW Oshkosh presented Auclair with a Nightingale Award in 2015 for excellence in nursing practice. She was named Nurse of the Year for 2017 by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Auclair has eight other awards related to nursing/organ donation since 2009.

Auclair said she believes her clinical instructors at UW Oshkosh were a big factor in her professional development. “They left me feeling inspired with a sense of responsibility,” she said. “We were to never forget that patients put their trust in us.”

Auclair is proud of inspiring passion for organ donation with her entire hospital team.

“But I am most proud of the lives I have touched,” she said, “knowing that I have done my best to make ‘the world stop and take notice’ when someone special has passed. To hear a grieving wife whisper in my ear that her husband’s death was ‘beautiful’ will forever ring in my memory.”

Auclair will be among those honored at UWO’s Alumni Awards Celebration on Friday, Oct. 6, at the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center. The cost is $30 per person and includes dinner. For more information or to RSVP for the event, please call (920) 424-3449 or send an email to

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