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Marlys "Marty" Brunsvold feels blessed to be here, while those around her – including two people whose lives were saved because of CPR classes Brunsvold taught, consider her a blessing.

Brunsvold, a longtime nurse and volunteer at Grace Lutheran Church, Davenport, has been nominated for the Quad-Citizen of the Year Award.

'She has worked tirelessly'

Janice Gibbs, of Bettendorf, nominated her.

Brunsvold began the “sleep sacks” program at Grace, where she teaches classes in CPR and first aid. She also visited people who are home-bound, helps care for surviving spouses when no other family is available and takes church members to doctor appointments.

She makes frequent hospital visits and helps coordinate adult-education forums.

She makes casseroles for the St. Joseph Evening Meal at Rock Island Township Hall.

“If anyone needs help, Marty would make sure somebody was there to help you. She is the just wonderful, loving person you could ever talk to,” Gibbs said.

“She has worked tirelessly on these (programs),” she said. “She goes out of her way to help people who need help.”

A 'retiree' who's an active volunteer

Brunsvold is humble about her accomplished. “I have worked in a variety of different areas, all in the hospital setting,” she said. “My last 15 years were in the hemodialysis unit at Genesis Medical Center. I took my parish nurse training at Trinity Unity Point Health and was anointed around 24 years ago.” The parish-nurse program is a 60-hour course required to be a parish nurse.

Brunsvold is retired. “My activities as a parish nurse have always been as a volunteer. This is an unpaid position for my church.”

One of the reasons Gibbs nominated Brunsvold is because Brunsvold teaches CPR/AED and first-aid classes as a certified American Heart Association instructor. She has taught classes at churches, day-care centers, dentist offices and surgery clinics.

Gibbs points out two lives were saved directly because of Brunsvold’s classes.

“One example of the importance of someone learning CPR was a couple in their 80s who took the first class that was taught at Grace,” Brunsvold said. “Two weeks later, the man had a (potentially) fatal cardiac arrhythmia and his wife was able to get help and assist with his resuscitation.” Both are alive today and are in their 90s.

“We also had another instance of a couple who had taken a class I taught at Grace,” Brunsvold said. “A few months later, the husband coded at home and his wife was able to perform CPR. He is also still living and doing well,” said Brunsvold, who emphasizes everyon should learn CPR: “The life you save may be a friend, your spouse or child," she said.

Grace has an active sewing group that meets monthly to sew quilts for Lutheran World Relief. “For years, I thought something needed to be done for those less fortunate that live on the streets in the Quad-Cities,” Brunsvold said. She discovered quilt resources for people living on the streets.

Sleep sacks and community support

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Brunsvold visited a sleep sack program at the Center for Active Seniors Inc. to learn how the process.

“From there I adopted the way we do ours at Grace,” she said.

All fabric is donated.

Making a sleep sack takes about 10 hours from start to finish. “With the assistance of my husband or other helpers, I put up to five layers of fabric together, sew the top and sides and then the entire 84" x 84" piece is turned, tied with yarn, folded over in half, then rolled and tied together into a sleep sack,” she said. These function like bed rolls, and are kept secure with two neck ties so they can be carried under a person’s arm.

The sleep sack project has received donations from a variety of sources, including other parish nurses and Quad-City organizations, and others who drop off fabric donations.

“We have one great-grandmother who sews baby-quilt tops and brings them to us to finish and donate where they are needed and used,” Brunsvold said. Others, besides a faithful group of Grace Lutheran members who meet to "tie knots," include a Boy Scout needing service hours, along with his mother; friends of those helping tie knots; friends of members; and other volunteers.

Brunsvold’s husband, Ron, is supportive. “He willingly helps me when I need a second pair of hands when I am working on the sleep sacks and in whatever I am doing as a parish nurse or other projects,” she said. “There are many projects I would not have undertaken without his encouragement and support throughout our marriage." In December, they will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.

“I have followed some seniors for years in nursing homes and the friendship and love that is expressed is amazing," Brunsvold said. For someone unable to attend the church they love, being able to take Holy Communion means a lot, she said. "It is an honor to be there with them, sometimes as they are dying," she said.

Grace Lutheran Church is Brunsvold’s other family. “I have known many of the members since we joined in 1979 when we came to the Quad-Cities,” she said. “Many of the people I have visited as a parish nurse through the 24 years are no longer with us. Their memories stay with me.

Other folks who want to volunteer should find something they enjoy, she said. “I enjoy working with fabric and especially the sleep sacks,” Brunsvold said. “Being with others and working on a project is very rewarding. The fellowship and sharing are fun and before you know it, two or three hours have passed by.

“You get to know others and share in their lives, their sorrows, joys and accomplishments. People share as much as they want.”

A life-changing diagnosis: 'Blessed to be here'

Brunsvold, too, shares facets of her life, including a recent diagnosis: On May 28 she underwent surgery to remove the larynx (voice box), part of the esophagus and her thyroid gland because of Squamous Cell Carcinoma Stage IV.

Because she no longer has a voice box, she cannot speak (this interview was conducted via email.) Her husband manages phone contacts. “My husband has been a support that cannot be beat. We are a team and are fighting this together, as we have worked together throughout our marriage.”

Friends, family, her church family, the a parish nurse manager, parish nurses and others she doesn’t even know have been a huge support and comfort.

In the meantime, an artificial esophagus has been created and Brunsvold is learning to swallow again, mostly liquids. “I have a stoma, a hole in my neck, in order to breathe.”

Now her energy is returning, and she feels good: “I feel very blessed to still be able to be here.”

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.