Making an Impact: Start-up Walk Helps to Prevent Suicide

Colleague and her family start nonprofit in memory of her grandpa

Impactful Past

It was nine years ago when Ed Saffert died. No one knew then, or even knows today, exactly why the 49 year old from Barron County took his own life. “At 14, I didn’t really get it,” said Ed’s granddaughter Megan Widiker. “I couldn’t figure out why in that instant you’d want to give up. I just sat in the grass and cried because as a teenager, I didn’t get it.”

Now grown and married, and working at HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals as a certified occupational therapy assistant, Megan says the tragedy gives her a greater urgency to want to help.

“Now that I’ve been through this, I respond differently. I’m more confident in helping people,” said Megan.

The Start of Something New

Shortly after Ed’s passing, his family began organizing fundraisers. Money was sent to the National Suicide Prevention Foundation in memory of Ed. But three years ago his family, including Megan’s mom, Michelle – who is Ed’s daughter-in-law – decided to keep the money local by starting the Ed Saffert Suicide Prevention Foundation, Inc. The nonprofit organization hosts the Hope Suicide Prevention 5K every October in Rice Lake.

Together Michelle and Megan want suicide to no longer be a taboo subject, even among young children.
That’s why the ladies say it’s no longer about waiting until kids reach a certain age to talk about topics like suicide and depression.

“They need to learn kindness and coping strategies and confidence builders so by the time they reach fourth and fifth grade they already have those skills in place,” said Michelle. “We keep growing every year and there are always people there I don’t know, so that tells me we’re getting the word out,” said Michelle.

Moving Ahead

Funds raised at the 5K, combined with grants and donations, will bring Kevin Heinz to Rice Lake next September. Heinz jumped off the golden gate bridge in 2000, and survived. He now speaks around the world about his bipolar disorder diagnosis and why suicide is never the answer.

With more than 900 deaths by suicide in Wisconsin in 2017, the last year statistics are available from the state Department of Health Services, Megan is thankful the foundation is working to make a difference– all in memory of her grandpa.

“I remember the things grandpa liked to do,” she said. “He liked to ride motorcycle.” Today, Megan’s husband wears Grandpa Ed’s motorcycle jacket on his rides.

“And I’ve always known the doors are open at HSHS. There’s no judgment and people are always accepted here. It’s nice to be part of a facility that also wants to improve mental health in the community.”

You may also be interested in “One Family’s Hospital Connections.”