FARGO — For many who were at a ceremonial groundbreaking for a "Garden of Healing" on Monday, May 10, in Urban Plains Park in south Fargo, it was "personal" — even for Gov. Doug Burgum.

Burgum surprised organ donation advocates Sarah and Arlin Fisher by attending the event for the garden that they are developing in memory of their son and stepson, 22-year-old Cameron Bolton, who died about three years ago in a car accident and donated his organs.

Burgum told the crowd of about 60 people at 5050 30th Ave. S. near Scheels Arena that his older brother, who died suddenly from a brain aneurysm several years ago, was an organ donor.

He said his brother went on more than 1,000 ambulance runs in Casselton, and it seemed almost natural that he would offer his organs to give life to others after witnessing so many tragedies.

Burgum, who said the Fishers were an "inspiration," used the occasion to proclaim May as "Donor Life Month" in the state as he noted, despite 39,000 transplants through organ donations last year, there were still 107,000 people waiting for transplants.

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The event was also personal for West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, who said he had friends who lost an 11-year-old daughter. Shortly after that, he went to the state driver's license bureau and put "donor" on his license.

Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, a physician, said he was on the surgical team that did one of the first kidney transplants in Fargo and saw the chance for life that organ donations can bring.

He proclaimed urged all residents to consider organ, eye and tissue donations and to celebrate those who have saved lives through the gift of donation.

Mahoney said donors like Bolton "can heal more than 75 lives, and without Cameron giving the gift of life, many people would not have a new beginning."

It was also personal and a remembrance of a new beginning for lung transplant survivors Cherie Finneman and Shannon Mohn, who are co-founders of the Fargo-Moorhead Lung and Heart Transplant Group. They said they see the garden as a place where they can pay respect to the donors who gave them their second chance at life after they once faced terminal outlooks.

Finneman said her donor gave her hope 16 years ago that she might see her son graduate from high school. He is now 27 years old.

Mohn said their group will help maintain the garden, a place where he can remember his donor from Wichita, Kansas, who gave him a chance to continue teaching at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead and, most importantly, have more time with his family.

Gov. Doug Burgum surprised the group at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Garden of Healing and proclaimed May as "Donor Life Month" in North Dakota.  Also at the ceremonies were leaders from each city in the area, including, from left, Dilworth Vice Mayor  Julie Nash, Horace Mayor Kory Peterson, West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and Fargo Park Board Chairwoman Stacey Griggs.   Barry Amundson / The Forum
Gov. Doug Burgum surprised the group at the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Garden of Healing and proclaimed May as "Donor Life Month" in North Dakota. Also at the ceremonies were leaders from each city in the area, including, from left, Dilworth Vice Mayor Julie Nash, Horace Mayor Kory Peterson, West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney and Fargo Park Board Chairwoman Stacey Griggs. Barry Amundson / The Forum

Of course, it's personal for Sarah Fisher, who embarked on a long, emotional journey after she lost her son in the summer of 2018.

She told the crowd that "all of the dreams go," too, for people who lose their children as she has been watching her son's friends marry and go through other life events.

The garden, which has been approved by the Fargo Park Board, is just another step in her journey as she heals.

Fisher, who works at Sanford Health, said the garden is fulfilling another need, as so many people lost loved ones before their time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She hopes the garden site between the Sanford and Essentia hospitals can be a place for people whose loved ones are in the medical centers or those who need to start or continue their journey of healing.

Fisher hopes people will hold events there, possibly even memorial services for their loved ones.

A rendering for the park shows it will be in the shape of a cross, and Fisher started a website called Crosses for Cameron that aims to improve the lives of organ donors and recipients.

The professionally designed garden is being financed through donations, and it got a boost with the help of the Dakota Medical Foundation's Giving Hearts Day donations this past winter. Fisher said she hopes to have the first phase of the garden done by August.

People can help the park develop by buying bricks engraved with names of loved ones for walkways and other garden features at $50 each.

Fischer is hoping people will donate birdbaths, trees or other stone features in memory of their loved ones.

Those interested can find more information at crossesforcameron.org.