SIOUX CITY (KTIV)- Michael Ruehle was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002.
After twelve years of hospital visits, procedures, and three battles with cancer, Mike lost his fight at the age of 60.
"His favorite line was, 'God's driving the bus, I'm just a passenger.' So it was quite a surprise when he didn't make it through this last time," Kerry Ruehle, his wife said.
The complications at the end of his life were unexpected, and the family didn't know until about a week before Mike passed away that they were serious enough to threaten his life.
"It's surreal. It still doesn't feel like anything has happened, because he's been in Omaha for the past month. So we're kind of used to him missing birthdays and holidays," Ashley Locke, Mike's daughter said.
As the family prepared for the funeral, they decided to do something unique: they asked friends and family to send teddy bears instead of flowers. His two sons and daughter, and close family friends, affectionately refer to him as 'Bear.'
The Ruehle family planned to donate the teddy bears they received to young cancer patients at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
"Trying to bring warmth and light into the lives of some of the other families down there, you know, he would be doing the same thing," Nathan Ruehle, Mike's son said.
The response to their request was overwhelming.
"We had no idea we would have well over 500 bears donated. We just can't believe it," Kerry Ruehle said.
Five hundred and twenty-four bears, to be exact.
And the family says there's more on the way.
"We were overwhelmed to see what everyone was doing, you know, all the bears coming in, all the lines we had of people," Rhett Ruehle said.
Mike's family says donating the bears to the children fighting cancer at UNMC, where Mike himself was treated for those 12 years, is exactly what he would have wanted.
"I think this really goes along with his giving and caring mentality, and always putting others before himself," Rhett Ruehle said.
"I think it's really cool that you remember this as his legacy," Ashley Locke said.
"Even though he never said anything about the bears, this is exactly what he would have wanted, and we all know that," Nathan Ruehle said.
When the Ruehle family called the University of Nebraska Medical Center to offer the bears, the staff informed them that they were almost out of the stuffed animals they regularly hand out to younger patients on their 'care cart.'
As the family prepares to take the bears to Omaha at the end of the month, near Mike Ruehle's birthday, the UNMC staff says the donation couldn't happen at a better time.
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