Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

Harvard says goodbye to Andi Swenson

Harmilda wears purple in honor of Andi Swenson, who died Jan. 5. HML PHOTO BY JAY SCHULZ

On Jan. 11, more than 1,000 people visited the south gym at Harvard High School to say goodbye to Andi Swenson. Andi, who battled cystic fibrosis, received a rare double lung/liver transplant Oct. 25 at Loyola Medical Center, Maywood. She experienced several post-surgery complications and was never healthy enough to leave the hospital; she passed away Jan. 5.

The gymnasium and the cafeteria at the high school were filled with images of Andi. Cards and gifts she received from across the world were displayed. People who followed her journey through the Facebook page “Breathe On Andi,” wore purple, her favorite color, to celebrate her life. She wore the jersey of her favorite Chicago Blackhawk, Marian Hossa.

Family friend Tim Kline, who lives in Rockford, was one of the administrators for the Breathe on Andi Facebook page. He gave the eulogy at Andi’s service.

Kline said he counted himself as a person who was changed by her.

“This girl has changed and touched thousands of people,” Klein said. “There were times when our Facebook posts would reach 30,000 people. If you knew her, she was just this tiny, meek girl; but what she had was courage and love, and she changed a lot of people including myself.”

“We wanted something special,” said her mother, Lea Swenson. “I think we accomplished that.”

“We never got to bring her home,” said her father, Eric Swenson. “That was the goal – get her home for a day and have a celebration.

“We met people that went to school with her – people we never knew. People that didn’t even know her but were following her story [came to the service]. They just kept coming one after another. Everybody wore purple. It was a great celebration of her life. She didn’t get to have that celebration, but we did.”

Several families with members battling cystic fibrosis attended the service including the family of Erica Lopez, who received a transplant a few weeks after Swenson.

“They were supposed to be side-by-side in the rehab facility,” Swenson said.

Harvard resident Mary Cooke was one of many individuals who helped with the arrangements at the school.

“The day was really another example of how Harvard, near and far, comes together to support each other,” Cooke said in an email. “Just as they did for the Breathe On, Andi fundraiser, the purple Support the Swensons day in November, people came out to support the family once again to say goodbye to an unbelievable fighter. Harvard did what Harvard does.”

After the transplant, the hope was Andi would heal and would be able to go home.

“It was not uncommon [for her] to see 30 doctors a day,” Klein said. “She had a doctor for everything. We all thought the surgery was the hardest part. But it turned out not to be.”

“Physically, Andi wasn’t stable enough, but I think she could have gotten there,” Eric Swenson said. “There were just so many problems. It just got to be too much. She just couldn’t do it anymore. … The amount of procedures, poking and tests that she went through day after day was just [unbelievable].”

Kline said that, even though Andi lost her battle, the memory of whom she was and what she was able to accomplish should not be forgotten.

“I know her father struggles with all her suffering and feels she wasn’t rewarded,” Klein said and noted he is trying to help her parents see the positive. “There was a huge reward there. There is a community [that supported her]. There are people whose lives have changed because of her.”

“I’ve been angry because of all the suffering she had to endure, and she didn’t get the prize at the end of the hard work,” Eric Swenson said. “Tim wants us to see how she brought together a community and created a lot of unity and love. We want that to be her legacy.”

Lea Swenson said they are touched by the support they have received.

“We still to this day think it’s amazing how everybody came together to support her,” Lea Swenson said. “It’s so humbling. We definitely don’t feel worthy of it, but we have to remember she was.”

“She got gift after gift, card after card,” Eric Swenson said. “But she got to the point where she wanted only one thing, and no one could give it to her.”

“She just wanted to come home,” Lea Swenson said.