Richmond Mayor Sally Hutton proclaimed Wednesday, Feb. 15 a “Day of Caring” at the Richmond Community Blood Center (CBC) branch in memory of Tressel Meinardi, the seven-month-old Richmond boy who died from a tragic operating room error, yet whose “life story touched thousands” and today benefited others through the gift of life.
The blood drive in Baby Tressel’s name comes 18 months after heart surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital proved fatal. An operating room technician mistakenly flushed Tressel’s heart with alcohol instead of saline solution and he died five days later. But less than a year after the tragedy Tressel’s parents Scott and Emilie Meinardi gave birth to a daughter who they named Scarlet.
Mayor Hutton’s reading of the Day of Caring Proclamation was emotional for the family but Emilie Meinardi said the presence of Scarlet lifted their spirits. “I would look at her and that helped a lot,” said Emilie. “For everybody.”
In her proclamation Mayor Hutton described Tressel’s “infectious smile that warmed the hearts of anyone who met him.” Afterwards, while looking through pictures of Tressel, she said, “He always had that smile, picture or not.”
That’s also what Chelsea Brown, Tressel’s daycare babysitter, remembers most about him. “His smile,” she said immediately. “He had a contagious smile.” She also remembers how she and her co-workers gathered in prayer after getting the message on the day of Tressel’s surgery “That his heart wouldn’t start.”
She shares a picture of her husband holding Tressel that she keeps on the front of her cell phone. “I can’t bring myself to change it,” she says. She asked for the day off from the daycare weeks ahead so she could donate on Baby Tressel Day.
Mayor Hutton, who says she is sometimes deferred from donating, was determined to donate in Tressel’s honor today, and was glad that she could. “I’m a mayor who keeps a shovel and a rake in her car,” she explains as she talks about joining city work crews on Day of Caring projects such as cleaning up litter and collecting recyclables.
She was not alone in the donor room. Debbie Riley of Richmond was compelled to donate when she read about Tressel. “I said, what amazing parents,” she recalled.
Joshua Hillard of Richmond also donated for Tressel, saying, “I think everyone should donate. It helps more people than one.” Pam Bergfield from Richmond has a young son who underwent a heart transplant and provided advice to the Meinardis before Tressel’s surgery. “I believe in blood donations and organ donations,” she said. “I am a firm believer.”
Like her brother, Scarlett was born premature and also has a heart condition. But Emilie learned last week that although they must monitor a small hold in the ventricular wall of her heart, her doctors believe it can heal without surgery.
Also like her brother, Scarlet was named in honor of Ohio State University: Tressel for former football coach Jim Tressel and Scarlet for the school colors, scarlet and grey. The Meinardis hometown is Findlay, OH, where Tressel is buried. Emilie’s parents Gary and Joetta Carles made the journey to the Richmond CBC to honor their grandson.
“I remember the last thing I said to the nurse before his surgery was, ‘You take good care of him,’” said Joetta during a moment of reflection after the proclamation reading. After a pause she added, “I don’t know if I could say that again.”
The family takes comfort in their new granddaughter Scarlet, and Emilie speaks with hope of giving birth to more children and adopting. But they also treasure these words from the proclamation:
“A Day of Caring is an opportunity to help others with an act of kindness and symbolizes new hope for the Meinardi family.” And finally, “Overwhelmed by the outpouring of community support and the realization that Tressel’s life story touched thousands of individuals, the Meinardis would like to help others benefit from the gift of life from his gift of life.”