Through immeasurable loss, Marcia Rudat found a new purpose.
Nearly 25 years ago, her husband, David, suddenly died at 51 from an aortic dissection. As she and their sons, Jeff, Kevin and Todd, grieved, Rudat was contacted by a donor coalition group that her husband’s tissue could save another life.
Her husband was a devoted teacher, volunteer and leader of their church’s youth group. He had a compassionate heart and always gave of himself to others, Rudat said. He even lived by the acronym J.O.Y.
“Jesus first, then others and yourself last,” the Archbald resident said on a recent day, adding she consented to the donation.
His heart valves saved children’s lives, his bones prevented amputations for children with bone cancer, the skin from his back provided grafts for burn victims, and the blood vessels provided materials for others’ bypass surgeries.
While she had no time to prepare for his passing or say goodbye, she found meaning in his death, knowing he had given this gift to others.
“It makes sense out of something that feels senseless in a way,” she said. “He was always giving and would do anything for anyone. It was the natural thing to do.”
A retired nurse, Rudat was invited to a donor recognition ceremony that year through an organ and tissue awareness nonprofit, Gift of Life Donor Program. There, Rudat heard the stories of donors, their families and recipients. Eventually, Rudat was asked to tell her own story. Then, something clicked, and it led her to begin volunteering with Gift of Life. She continued to share her story and raise awareness about the need for organ and tissue donors.
“The need is so great, and if I can tell my story and maybe change someone’s life, I’ll do it,” she said.
She participates in events, including the annual National Donor Sabbath, walks in the St. Patrick’s Parade in Scranton, and joins remembrance ceremonies and dozens of other speaking engagements throughout the year where she shares her story.
“People will come up to me after and say, ‘You know, I never knew what it meant that my husband was an organ or tissue donor. Hearing your story helps me understand what it means,’” she said. “It’s in the name: Gift of Life. You’re putting a face to the name of the person who gave them that beautiful gift.”
She also is involved with Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, Jessup, where she sends shawls to families on the anniversary of their loved one’s tissue donation as well as anniversary and birthday cards, to “let them know their loved one’s donation was not forgotten about,” she said.
Then, her experience truly came full circle for her when her oldest son needed a kidney transplant.
“I’m in a unique position that I’ve gotten to see both sides of this,” she said.
Rudat is known to strike up conversations with shoppers in the grocery store after taking a peek at their licenses to check if they’re an organ donor. Most of the time, the person isn’t even aware it’s something they must opt-in to when they renew their driver’s license. She also fields some of the most common misconceptions about organ donation.
“Just talking about it with people is enough. Raising that awareness,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people understand how it works, and it’s something so simple that could save someone else’s life.”
Rudat also remains grounded in her faith. A member of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Dickson City, Rudat is part of the Altar Guild, the Board of Properties for the church council and is the recording secretary. She also served as the church nurse for several years. Her mother was dedicated to the church while Rudat was growing up and was a great woman of faith. Then, church was something Rudat and her husband bonded over. They met lifelong friends through the church, which Rudat said is small but a “family in every sense of the word.”
“It’s just something I’ve done my whole life,” she said. “I don’t even think about it. It’s just who I am.”
Through her volunteer work, she believes that it was always the plan that she was to help others and use her God-given talent, “which I never knew I had before,” she said. While she was terrified of public speaking her whole life, she’s amazed at crowds she’s told her story for, including full ballrooms and hundreds of guests. She often thinks about her husband and how he would feel about her second act. She knows he’s watching her and he’s proud.
“It’s fitting because we always did everything together. We were a team,” she said. “Now, I’m doing something that’s connected to him. It really comes full circle.”
Meet Marcia Rudat
At home: Lives in Archbald; husband, the late David; three sons, Jeff, Kevin and wife, Jessica, and Todd and wife, April; two grandchildren, twins David and Julia
At work: Retired registered nurse
Inspiration: Her desire to help people and organizations with her skills and talents
Aspirations: To encourage others to have the organ donor designation on their driver’s license, and to share their wishes with family; to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others
Diversions: Walking three miles a day for exercise, mowing her lawn and gardening in the summertime
Aversions: “Negativity, as I always try to find something positive in any situation,” she said.
Quote: “Jesus loves you today, He always has, He always will.” – Dr. David Jeremiah
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT