Bill Thiessen shows the freezer that was donated to the neonatal intensive care unit at Abbotsford Regional Hospital in memory of his wife, Marianne, a former nurse. The freezer will be used to store donated breast milk. (Submitted photo)

Family of former nurse donates hospital freezer in her memory

Donation made to store breast milk for babies at Abbotsford Regional Hospital

The family of a nurse who was passionate about helping new moms has donated a special freezer to Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH).

The freezer is capable of storing donations of breast milk for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The donation was made to the Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation (FVHCF) by the family of Marianne Thiessen, who died in 2014.

Thiessen was a nurse for 30 years in Saskatoon and Calgary and was then in maternity at MSA Hospital in Abbotsford until she retired. She then began volunteering with the Abbotsford Health Unit.

Thiessen greeted parents and children coming to the health unit for immunization clinics, and assisted parents with weighing and measuring their babies.

She is remembered for her gentle, caring manner that made families feel welcome and soothed anxious children.

Thiessen met her husband Bill while attending Canadian Mennonite Bible College in Winnipeg. Their lifetime of service together included six years in Nigeria, where she provided her health-care wisdom to the Mennonite Central Committee.

Both Thiessen and her twin sister, Lilianne, as well as her younger sister, Connie, became nurses. Her brother Arnold is an entomologist who lives in Vienna, Austria.

Thiessen was known for saying “I love babies” and loved the work she did, so when her family expressed an interest in supporting the local NICU, the FVHCF suggested they consider sponsoring a freezer for breastmilk in her name.

Until recently, breast milk donated in Abbotsford was sent to BC Women’s Hospital to be pasteurized, but could not be returned to Abbotsford because ARH did not have the facilities to properly store the milk.

In 2018, the Thiessen family donated gift cards to struggling Abbotsford mothers to help give them a helping hand.

The recipients of this award included single moms, teenage mothers, newcomers to Canada, and families of twins who were all struggling financially.

Lucy Dominak, the Baby-Friendly Initiative project lead for the Fraser Health Authority, said the agency is “beyond grateful” for the support of the Thiessen family.

“The freezer will allow our Abbotsford babies to receive donor milk and start their lives with the best possible nutrition – human milk,” she said.

The FVHCF raises funds for vital equipment and programs funded or endorsed by the Fraser Health Authority. They serve the communities of Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Hope, Agassiz and Harrison Hot Springs.

Visit fvhcf.ca or call 1-877-661-0314 for more information.

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