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Tabs for transplant house

MEDORA -- Milo Thompson has about 114,000 pop tabs piled up on his kitchen table. The bags of pop tabs appear on his front steps and on his car seat throughout the year from anonymous donors. Combined, they weigh 78 pounds, 5 ounces--at 91 tabs a...

Community members anonymously donate pop tabs to the family -- usually about 20 pounds a year. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
Community members anonymously donate pop tabs to the family -- usually about 20 pounds a year. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

MEDORA - Milo Thompson has about 114,000 pop tabs piled up on his kitchen table.

The bags of pop tabs appear on his front steps and on his car seat throughout the year from anonymous donors. Combined, they weigh 78 pounds, 5 ounces-at 91 tabs an ounce. Whenever he gets the chance, he drives the pop tabs to Rochester, Minn., to donate. This collection has accumulated over the last four years.

People know he collects them to donate the money he earns from recycling to the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester - a clean place where patients giving or receiving transplants at the Mayo Clinic can stay with their caregiver.

"It's just something that became a little project of mine," he said.

Milo and his wife Pam stayed at the house for several weeks in 2002 while she battled leukemia. Pam received a bone marrow transplant from her brother, a transplant that Milo estimated probably gave her an additional year to live.

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Pam died at the age of 51 on June 15, 2003.

A few years later, Milo and his three daughters decided to do something in her honor. They began collecting pop tabs for the place that provided their family warmth, comfort and support when they needed it most. The five of them celebrated Christmas together in the house.

"Being some place at that time of year-Christmas was always really important to my mom-it was just good to not have to be in a hospital," said Lara Bosserman, their daughter. "It's so cold, and to be in a homelike setting, it made it a little more comfortable. So that was really nice."

Alexa Rundquist, their youngest daughter, was in high school at the time. She spent several weeks on her own back in Medora - though she had community support-while her parents were at the Mayo Clinic. She said she remembers that Christmas vividly. Her mom got her a pair of velvet purple pants, which she was incredibly excited about at the time.

"It was a huge room, and for the five of us to be in there-it didn't feel like a hotel room, it felt just like a really nice home that we could have Christmas at," Alexa said.

The transplant house has rooms with two beds for the patients and their caregivers, each with their own bathroom, Milo said. There are also kitchens and spaces for dry and refrigerated food, so people do not need to spend money at restaurants during their stays.

At that time, it cost $25 to stay for a night. It now costs $70 for the first night and $30 for each subsequent night, said Steve Tarara, the house's operations manager. About 2,000 patients and 2,000 caregivers filter through the house every year for varying times and various procedures.

There are no TVs or computers allowed in the rooms. Instead, there are communal areas where everyone is encouraged to get to know one another. Milo and Pam were there during the winter Olympics, so a core group of the people residing at the house regularly watched the Games together.

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"You get to know these people and the trials and tribulations of the transplant," Milo said. "You're in an environment where everybody's undergoing the same thing. ... It's just a very welcoming place when you're in that situation."

He and his wife spent most of their days seeing doctors - sometimes having five or six different appointments a day. At Mayo, he found that if they had 100 questions, the doctors would sit and answer all 100 questions. No one was looking to rush patients along. However, this did usually mean appointments began later than scheduled, Milo said.

Part of this desire to collect the pop tabs stems from the support the Thompsons received while Pam was battling cancer. The community held a benefit, one that raised a substantial amount of money, Alexa said.

"When my mom was sick, a lot of people stepped up that we didn't expect to, and our community helped us out in ways that were unmeasurable, and this is just one little way that we can give back," she said.

The community held an auction, one where a sour cream raisin pie went for $250. A woman in the community was bidding against Alexa's uncle. She approached him after she won and told him she would have paid anything for that pie.

The family is now "those pop tab people," Alexa said. She and Lara both said they constantly have pop tabs in their pockets and stashed around their homes. Alexa's in-laws heard about the collection and spread the word. They now bring Alexa and her husband pop tabs every time they see them. But it is Milo who gathers them all and takes them to the transplant house. He appreciates any and all donations.

"It's a good feeling that you know that somebody out there cares, and it's probably better that I don't know who they are. It's more rewarding that somebody unknown would do this."

Milo and his wife ran the Medora Craft Fair, which is held the last Saturday in October. They took it over from the woman who started it around its 10th year. This year will be Medora's 34th fair, an event that brings about 45 vendors to town. It is a day when local businesses open their shops and do about the same amount of business as they do during the popular summer tourist season, Milo said. He also encourages those vendors to bring their pop tabs when they come to town.

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Alexa noted that he now donates the money from the event back to the community, in the name of the fair and in honor of her mom.

She did not realize how difficult losing a parent was until years later.

"I don't think it hit me until later on in life, until I started to get married, and then I became a mom, and then I realized how big of a deal it actually was," Alexa said. "... I don't think I also realized what that meant for my dad to lose his life partner. But he was by her side every single day.

"I just think when I look back and now being married, and of course I was very young at the time, marriage was not on my radar, but my dad taught me just how to be an amazing partner. Through sickness and health, that was him. He lived those vows out."

Milo lives at 105 8th Ave. South in Medora for those wishing to donate pop tabs to the transplant house.

Milo Thompson has collected about 114,000 pop tabs to donate to the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester, Minn., in honor of his wife Pam, who died in 2003. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press
Milo Thompson has collected about 114,000 pop tabs to donate to the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester, Minn., in honor of his wife Pam, who died in 2003. Photo by Ellie Potter/The Dickinson Press

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