Preparing the deceased for services and visitations can be very sensitive work. But like any occupation, the purveyors of this craft seek to do their job the best and most efficient way, as well as the most respectful.
One such individual in Northwest Indiana is Richard Marrell, the owner and founder of RLM Tissue Bank prosthetics. Based in Valparaiso, Marrrell’s company fills a specific need in the process of preparing a body for a funeral and cremation. And his products have changed the process, as well as this specific industry, worldwide.
These products specifically target tissue donors. Like organs from organ donors, tissues such as bones, skin, heart valves and other tissues are collected from tissue donors at their death for use in various medical procedures. RLM manufactures an array of pieces to replace the tissues that are taken out.
“Our parts help reconstruct the body so they’re stable from the trip from the hospital to the funeral home,” Marrell said. “Also, they make them viewable at the funeral.”
Marrell got the idea for his products while working for Gift of Hope, then known as the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois. It was his job to collect tissue from donors at hospitals in Lake County, as well as Northern Illinois. At the time, parts used in this process were not environmentally sound.
“We were using a plastic product which was clogging the crematory system,” Marrell said. “Burning them also gave off a dioxin, which is toxic. People were starting to go for crematories on an increasing basis. So I thought why not make cremation-friendly parts?”
RLM manufactures bone pieces—everything from arms and legs to pelvises—out of wood, which burns naturally through cremation. Additionally, all the sawdust is collected in combustible bags, which are placed in spots of the body where tissue has been extracted.
“It’s not just a crematory friendly product,” Marrell said. “We make sure to not waste anything. We go through about two miles of wood every month and we don’t waste any of it.”
After Marrell left Gift of Hope, they became RLM’s very first customer. Now, RLM employs over 60 transplant teams and ships over 5000 pieces around the world every month.
The demand for his products has led to the emergence of competitors with similar products. However, to their customer base, RLM is still the most trusted name.
“We have such a great relationship with our customers,” Marrell said. “They know they can call me, say they want X amount of product, and can have them by tomorrow.”
Away from the job, woodworking is still a hobby of Marrell’s. His love of the craft led him to another, more personal business venture: a vintage wooden ski shop set to open in Valparaiso.
“I always wanted to do a local business,” Marrell said. “I make furniture once in a while, but I like functional things that people can use, and skis are perfect.”