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Verna Defining MomentA Friend’s Gift

Verna Duzenack’s gift of tissue will help up to 12 people suffering from burns, cancer or other trauma.

Verna Duzenack loved to knit.

She loved trains and baking and listening to her friend Frank Davied preach to word of God.

But it was Verna’s final gift that has helped improve the lives of burn victims and cancer and trauma patients throughout the region.

Frank and Verna struck up a friendship many years ago when Frank, then a Franciscan priest, was assigned to the town of Walsenburg, about 50 miles south of Pueblo.

“She always came to Saturday night mass and always sat by herself and then, after everybody left, she would come out,” Frank said. “I was the type of pastor who would just stand by the door and greet you and she was a very insulated person; very quiet. She would wait until the very end and would come talk to me and that’s how our acquaintance started.”

The two would grow close over Frank’s year ministering to Walsenburg.

He said he eventually invited Verna to join a group of women who would meet on Monday and count the money from the previous day’s offerings. The group bonded over breakfast and fellowship.

Verna was in her 70s by then and as the next few years would pass, both Frank and Verna would find their separate ways to Pueblo and eventually to the same spot in the city.

“She called me one day and said ‘I’m thinking of moving out of Walsenburg,” Frank said.

Eventually the two would decide to settle on purchasing a house in Pueblo and Frank, who is a CNA and was no longer working for the Diocese of Pueblo, volunteered to help split the mortgage and serve as Verna’s caretaker.

Over the next 15 years, Frank would continue to officiate weddings and funerals and often Verna would go along.

On their free time, they would take train rides; tourist attractions like the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad and the Royal Gorge Railroad. Verna would knit and try to teach her friend how to make potica, especially the careful art of stretching the dough as thin as possible for the Slovenian pastry.

It was always a platonic relationship, but the two were as close as any life partners could get.

“Then one day, she up and said ‘You know, I’d like to be cremated,” Frank said.

While Frank had worked as a grief counselor, the conversation with Verna caught him by surprise. It was the beginning of a roundabout conversation on death and planning for that eventuality. Then about a month later, Verna emerged from her bedroom in a wild state of mind.

“She was screaming in a high-pitched voice and said the room is turning. I’m feeling like you’re turning on a Ferris wheel,’” Frank said.

An ambulance was called and Verna was transported to the Parkview Medical Center ER.

Verna and Frank“When I arrived at the ER, they already had Verna in a room,” Frank said. “The woman behind the counter said ‘Father Frank, the door is unlocked you can go on back.’ When I got to the back, before I even got there, three nurses stood up to hug me and the doctor was outside her door waiting for me. I couldn’t help but cry.”

Verna had suffered a severe brain hemorrhage and at nearly 91 years old, the prognosis wasn’t good.

Frank said his main concern was to get his friend into a room on Parkview’s third floor, where he could sit with her, read scriptures with her and give Vera her last rights.

“I was so impressed with the compassion everybody showed, even the ER doctor,” he said.

Frank said Parkview’s third floor staff also made the palliative experience a positive one.

“I can’t say enough Thanksgiving,” he said.

But during his stay with Verna, he also was contacted by staff from Donor Alliance, a nonprofit agency that works with Parkview and other hospitals to encourage organ and tissue donations.

Frank said that a decade earlier, he had advised his nieces and nephews to consider allowing their father to donate organs and tissue following his death and so was amenable to the Donor Alliance’s request regarding Verna.

But their professionalism was what really convinced him.

“I am a believer in helping people,” Frank said. “They laid out the procedure for me, and what was really important was they said ‘we will take her into our care,’” Frank said.

Those words were crucial.

They were an echo of Verna and Frank’s faith; that after death their souls are taken into God’s care. And so the vessel for that soul would be treated with honor and care as well.

Frank signed the release following his friend’s death July 30.

The emotions can still run raw. Frank presided over the funeral of his friend and still lives in the house they shared.

He is quick to admit that he is not the knitter that Verna was nor as skilled in making potica.

But Verna’s gifts go beyond the passing down of knowledge about needles and nut rolls.

Her tissue donation has been used to create 12 skin grafts, nine of which have already gone to patients.

The grafts are transplanted to burn victims to prevent infection and to cancer and trauma patients to allow the m to regenerate new tissue.

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