Elburn woman seeks fabric donations to make blankets for local kidney dialysis patients

  • Elburn resident Tara Johnsen is making fleece blankets for dialysis patients. She made blankets in 2019 and is doing it again after skipping 2020 because of the pandemic.

    Elburn resident Tara Johnsen is making fleece blankets for dialysis patients. She made blankets in 2019 and is doing it again after skipping 2020 because of the pandemic. Sandy Bressner/Shaw Media

Updated 12/1/2021 1:43 PM

Tara Johnsen's 2019 campaign to donate warm blankets to local kidney dialysis patients was so successful that she decided to do it again this year.

After taking last year off because of the pandemic, the Elburn resident is again accepting donations of handmade blankets or fabric so she can make the blankets herself to donate to patients at Tri-Cities Dialysis at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital's campus in Geneva.


"I decided a few weeks ago to do it again. I'm sure there's a lot of new patients, and I saw how happy they were the last time. If (the same patients) are still there, they can have another blanket," she said. "I've gotten so many responses and didn't expect it. Unless you know someone who's on kidney dialysis, you don't think about what patients have to go through."

Johnsen has a very personal connection to the dialysis center. Her father, Todd Johnsen, was a patient there for about a year before he underwent a successful kidney transplant. Tara and Todd were involved in a "kidney swap" with the Shaw family of St. Charles. Tara was a match for Sam Shaw (no relation to Shaw Media), who at the time was a St. Charles North High School student awaiting a kidney transplant.

Sam's father, Phill Shaw, was a match for Todd. The double transplant took place in early December 2018. Tara donated a kidney to Sam. Phill donated a kidney to Todd.

Tara said both she and her father continue to do "very well" three years later.

Before the transplant, Todd underwent dialysis for four hours, three times a week. While undergoing the treatment, he would huddle under a blanket to keep warm.

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In 2019, a year after the transplant, Todd and Tara hosted the first blanket and fabric drive to make blankets for each of the 70 patients at Tri-Cities Dialysis. The two visited the facility in December 2019 to deliver the blankets.

"People were so happy to get something, but then it was also sad because my dad would see people he knew from when he was a patient there," Tara, 23, said. "We know our story is a miracle story, and that's why I want to do something to give back. Our story could've ended up very different. We still can't believe it happened that way."

Tara thought of the idea to make warm fleece blankets because kidney dialysis patients are often sitting for hours during their treatment, which can be uncomfortable, she said.

"I've been thinking about doing this over the past few months, and last weekend, I decided it was time, so I posted it on Facebook," Tara said in 2019. "I also felt bad for my dad because he was so cold.


The blood is taken out of your body, cleaned, and then returned to the body, but it's so cold from being in the machine."

Tara said she and her father plan to visit Tri-Cities Dialysis later this month to distribute the blankets to patients.

"It's important to just bring attention to kidney disease and dialysis," she said. "I don't think people realize how common kidney disease is, and doctors told my dad his kidneys were failing for years until he was very sick. He had no symptoms early in the disease."

For information on how to donate fabric or a handmade blanket, send an email to Tara at tarajohnsen97@gmail.com. She can pick up donations and will continue to accept them until Dec. 7.

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