Jul 12, 2013 at 2:36 pm
ST. CLOUD (KNSI) - If anything can comfort the family of Karin Reichensperger today, it's the knowledge that their sister and daughter died doing the work that she was born to do.
Family members tell KNSI News that the 41 year-old founder and executive director of St. Cloud non-profit organization The MESSAGE Program, died of complications following a minor medical procedure in Guatemala City.
Reichensperger's brother, Charles Reichensperger, tells KNSI his sister was admitted to a Guatemala City hospital to receive a minor neck muscle surgery, but experienced complications and passed away following the operation.
The family received word of her death early on Thursday morning.
Reichensperger had recently traveled to Guatemala to oversee dispersement of donated firefighting and medical equipment - which has been the mission of her organization for about a decade.
The items, donated by hospitals, clinics and individuals from all over Minnesota, are things that can’t be used in the United States anymore, but are in high demand in developing nations.
Reichensperger, a 1999 graduate of St. Cloud State University, participated in relief work in support of numerous other organizations before founding the The MESSAGE Program (which stands for Medical/Dental/EMS/Fire supplies Shared Around Globally with Education) in 2003.
From that point on, Reichensperger says his sister devoted her life to growing the organization, recruiting volunteers, and making connections with donors.
Over time, the group gained donated warehouse and office spaces to expand their work. Reichensperger and her volunteers dedicated their time to collecting, sorting, packaging and shipping everything from wheelchairs, hospital beds and dialysis machines, to firefighting suits and equipment, to 9 developing countries worldwide.
Diane Reichensperger-Nohner says her sister made frequent trips to Guatemala during the last decade, and in that time, made a deep impact on certain communities.
"I spoke with a friend of Karin's from Guatemala today, and currently, at the funeral home, there are hundreds of people, camped out since early this morning, and the crowd is growing," Reichensperger-Nohner says. "Karin was very selfless, and her heart was in Guatemala."
A group of Guatemala City firefighters are also reportedly planning a memorial celebration in his sister's honor.
"Word spread very quickly in Guatemala - shock waves, really," Reichensperger-Nohner says. "Karin was very present, and very instrumental in advancing health care. And I think the one thing Karin would wish to come out of this is for people to realize what we take for granted here in the US."
Reichensperger's body will arrive in Minneapolis as soon as tomorrow, with funeral services expected on Tuesday at Williams-Dingmann Funeral Home.
The Reichensperger family says their main priority is to ensure their sister's work continues, and humanitarian aid donations can be made in Karin's name at Stearns Bank.
"She wasn't just affecting lives - she was changing lives," Reichensperger-Nohner says. "We just hope we're able to continue The Message Program. And we as a family have peace knowing she passed away doing what she loved."
For more information, visit www.themessageprogram.org
Temp: 22°F (-6°C)
Wind: 13 N