In Someone Else’s Shoes
By Marci Narum That mean girl at your daughter’s school has a story. And it’s probably not what anyone would believe. A person would have to walk in her shoes to really know her story—and to understand her; have compassion for her. An art exhibit at The Capital Gallery is showcasing shoes which tell the stories of students who have special needs or have been misunderstood. S.H.O.E.S stands for “Stories of Hope, Optimism, and Expression of Strength.” It’s a cooperative project between featured artist Jessica Wachter and Bismarck Century High School leadership and peer to peer students. The shoes were on exhibit Thursday evening at the gallery. The students were tasked with interviewing their peers who live with challenges such as a physical or emotional disability, or are new Americans. They shared each student’s story through artistic expression on canvas—canvas shoes, precisely. “What these students came up with is truly amazing,” Jessica says. Jessica got the project started with Sarah Bohrer, who teaches students who are intellectually disabled at CHS. Later, she helped the students with ideas for their artwork. The “mean” girl’s shoes tell a tale of two different perspectives: how her peers see her and how she sees herself. The left shoe is pink, sparkly, and full of makeup—“Many people think she’s ditzy, and all she cares about are boys,” the story card reads. The right shoe is black. There is a hole burned through it and it is filled with shards of glass. The card reads: “…she tries to act the part people portray her as, but feels completely different on the inside.” “It brings tears to my eyes to see how the students have a different understanding of their peers after doing this project,” says Sarah. “This has really allowed them to grow.” Leadership and art teacher, Gina Phillips, and art instructor Laurie Foerderer were also involved. They praised The Capital Gallery for sharing the space to showcase the students’ artwork. “I never dreamed we’d get to have their art displayed in a beautiful gallery with refreshments,” Laurie laughs. Jessica said the project was near and dear to her heart because she is dyslexic. “When someone is willing to hear your story, understand it, and have compassion, that’s when healing can begin.”
Oh Man: Because Guys Inspire Too! Santa Jerry
By Paula Redmann What started as a volunteer gig turned into a passion of sorts; a passion to be the best Santa (helper) he could be. Jerry Zimprich thought he could put on the suit, help a group make some money, talk to kids, come up with a couple hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho’s” and take some photos. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad deal. As soon as Jerry put on that red suit, he was hooked. He traded in the shared Santa suit and beard (NOT a jolly experience) from the mall, purchased his own suit and beard, and signed up for as many merry shifts as possible. ”There is a saying in the Santa world that, ‘Sometimes you pick the suit and sometimes the suit picks you.’ I am definitely an example of the suit picked me,” says Jerry. And thus, Santa Jerry was born; born to embrace Father Christmas, to listen to many a child on his lap at Minot’s Dakota Square Mall, as well as in Bismarck at Kirkwood Mall, Dakota Zoo, the Central Dakota Humane Society, and the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Library. And now, since Jerry retired, he’s “friends” with the man with the bag, the beard, and the bounty at a major theme park in Florida. Paula Redmann got a chance to visit with Santa Jerry. Here’s her interview: IW: What are the most common questions kids ask Santa? Santa Jerry: Are you the real Santa? And so I say, “I’m as real as real can be! Check out my beard!” (IW: Just so you know, it is Jerry’s real beard now, not a purchased one.) Where are the reindeer? “At the North Pole. It’s much too hot for them to stay here. But they will be back to get me later tonight when it’s cooler.” What is your favorite cookie? “I never met a cookie I didn’t like! Actually, the ones I like best are the homemade ones. What kind do you like to make?” IW: We suspect there are very hard questions that Santa gets asked, too. Are we right? Santa Jerry: Christmas is not always a joyous occasion for people. The myth is that this is a magical, happy, family time when you get everything you want. It’s very hard to have a child ask if I can make someone “get better.” It’s hard to hear, “Grandma is very sick and I want her to be here for Christmas.” One visit that really touched my heart was when two children came for pictures with their dad. They were both well prepared with typed out Christmas lists. I had time to read through both lists and visit with them about their wishes. Then I noticed near the bottom of one of the neatly typed lists, two little words had been penciled in: “mom hom.” I wasn’t sure what this was, and as I tried to phonetically sound out the words, Dad leaned over and said “Mom home.” He continued, “Their mom is in Kuwait and she won’t be home for Christmas.” You NEVER know what is going on in people’s lives. Be kind. IW: Can you recall the most unique gift request you’ve received from a child? Santa Jerry: There are so many. Probably the most unique was the young farm boy from Georgia who loved working with the pigs on his farm. “I want a real hog trailer for Christmas.” Dad indicated he probably would be getting one! IW: What are some of your best Santa techniques to try to calm any fears some children may have of you? Santa Jerry: One of the funny things about the crying child is Grandma’s comments. On more than one occasion, the Grandma looking on has said, “That’s just how his dad/mom was!” I try to be calm. They can stand if they don’t want to sit on Santa’s lap. I try to distract them by talking about something they are carrying or wearing. If they are wearing a sweater with a train I can ask, “Do you like trains? I do, too!” I also have a small music box with a moving horse and sleigh inside. “Do you want to see the special music box the elves made for me?” IW: What would you like children to remember about their visit with you? Santa Jerry: I love it when they go to their parents and say, “He IS the real Santa!” I hope they leave feeling they had a brief visit with a bit of magic and wonder. IW: What does Santa Jerry love most about Christmas? Santa Jerry: The smiles, and not just of the children. Santa has a different perspective of the visits. Everyone is looking at the children, but of course, I have to look at the camera. I am looking at everyone watching. It is very heartwarming to see all the smiles and sometimes tears from the moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandmas, and grandpas as they watch their child visit with Santa. It is amazing to be a part of so many families’ Christmas traditions. To think that a child can talk to Santa and somehow the very thing they asked for shows up under the tree on Christmas Eve. Without the love of family and friends, Santa would just be a colorful character. But because of the love of family and friends, Santa becomes magical! Merry Christmas! To learn more about Santa Jerry, his experiences, and stories go to santajerry.com or his Facebook page. Paula Redmann is the Community Relations Manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. She married her high school sweetheart, Tom. They have two grown sons, Alex and Max.
Goodness & Light
By Amber (Schatz) Danks If you’ve seen the “Lights on Chestnut” in a neighborhood southeast of Bismarck, you know how special it is. What you may not know, is the story behind the spectacular Christmas light show. For 11 years, dueling Christmas displays across the street from each other have been a friendly brother-sister competition. No winner is ever crowned between siblings Greg Wilz and Gigi Wilz, but hundreds of children and adults get to be dazzled by the colorful lights and music they have created during the holidays. On a good year, the homeowners have counted up to 20,000 vehicles stopping by to take in the show. This year, there will be an even bigger audience. Gigi and Davina and Greg and Sharon, will be featured nationally on an upcoming episode of “The Great Christmas Light Fight.” The ABC show is a holiday decorating competition series. The reality show features people decorating their homes to compete for a cash prize and trophy. Gigi says ABC reached out to them to be on the show, but they were hesitant right away. “We have been doing this for years, for fun, for family and for community. Although we had talked about the show and bantered back and forth on who would win, we never really talked about auditioning. We didn’t want why we do it to change,” explains Gigi. “So we talked about it and thought it would be cool if we won the trophy, but more important we thought it would be fun to portray what North Dakotans do when it comes to decorating for Christmas.” What North Dakota does, is step up to help. In May 2015, Gigi became the first female general of the North Dakota National Guard. She was deployed to Bosnia during December 2015 and 2016, missing out on the elaborate lights setup, which includes computers, music, and thousands of homemade yard decorations. Gigi was supposed to be home for setting up lights this year, but responded to Puerto Rico to help following Hurricane Maria. “The Great Christmas Light Fight” production crew instead filmed with Davina, Greg, and Sharon, plus 300 family, friends, neighbors, and military members—including the Patriot Guard—who pitched in to make sure the show would go on. “To me, it’s so much about community. Not only will I think, ‘Oh my God, I owe these people so much,’ to make sure what we do is a community effort for the last couple years, it’s about a whole bunch of people getting together and giving back to the community,” says Gigi. Gigi, Davina, and Greg have strong military backgrounds, which has also helped in coordinating the immense volunteer effort. “I attribute the volunteer effort to Davina. She is so connected to the community. For years she has brought people together or volunteered her time to help others. And quite honestly, over the past couple years it has been the relationships with friends and our military family, including the Gold Star Families, Team Red, White, and Blue, and the Patriot Guard, that have allowed us to continue to do this,” says Gigi. “We are a military neighborhood and out of the 10 years of the display, five of those years someone in the neighborhood has had a family member deployed in service to our country,” Davina shares. “The generosity of this community has been the unwavering support to service members, families, veterans, and fallen families. There is nothing more recognizable as the pride this community shows and how military service touches nearly every family. “But the light show has an amazing support system behind the scenes. Gigi has been deployed the past three holiday seasons, but we had the generosity of family and friends to assist with assembling of the display, and support of the neighborhood. For 35 days while preparing this year’s display for ABC’s ‘Great Christmas Light Fight’ contest, they were diligent with their efforts and selfless with their time. This Christmas display is a treasure that we feel we can give our community and is most definitely a labor of love.” Millions of people will enjoy that labor of love this year—in person and on TV. The lights went on for the season on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Spectators will enjoy 500,000 lights this year—200,000 more than last season. There are also several new pieces in both yards this year; the highlight for Gigi and Davina is the 25-foot star tree and the word, “believe” over the garage that Gigi’s brother Guy helped her weld. “No matter what, we try to stay traditional, after all it is about the spirit of Christmas and about believing in something bigger than yourself,” says Gigi. Last Christmas was a slower year for traffic at the “Lights on Chestnut.” Gigi says that’s likely due to blizzards and bad roads. With excitement surrounding the ABC show, and a chance to see what dozens of volunteers have helped put together while Gigi was deployed, this Christmas season might be extra special. “The years I was home for it, before Bosnia, it was such a panic. The Friday after Thanksgiving no matter what, that really became a panic time. Why do we do this to ourselves every year? But then [the lights] come on and you start to hear the stories of wedding engagements or family time, and that’s when I get the shivers. It’s really about seeing other people’s reactions,” says Gigi. Season Five of “The Great Christmas Light Fight” premieres Monday, December 4 on ABC. The special neighbors edition, featuring Bismarck’s “Lights on Chestnut” will air December 11. You can see the “Lights on Chestnut” weeknights from 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. and on weekends from 5:30 p.m.-11:00 p.m. Amber (Schatz) Danks spent nearly 12 years as a news reporter, producer, and anchor. She is currently tackling her toughest and most rewarding assignment yet: being a stay-home mom to her baby girl.
Called to 25 Days of Giving
The Seaks Family By Stephanie Fong Sitting at her desk at work six years ago, social worker Kristin Seaks of Dickinson was struck by a thought that has shaped the month of December for her family ever since. “This idea of ‘25 Days of Giving’ popped into my head. I did some research online. Does this exist? Where have I seen this before? I couldn’t find anything.” Kristin pondered the thought, trying to figure out what the message was. It didn’t take her long to decide that from December 1 through 25, her family could share their time, talent, or treasures. Her husband, Brent, was skeptical when she told him her idea. “I was a slow convert,” he admits, recalling how busy life felt with children, then ages two, three, and 18. “It wasn’t that I thought it was a bad idea, it just seemed that it was such a busy time of the year already.” But Kristin was sure their family was meant to pursue the call to more purposefully give. “I told him, ‘I’ve already started a list.’ We dove in,” she says. The first year The family worked to give of their time, talent, or treasure each day. They made donations to the Amen Food Pantry, The Arc of Dickinson, and Oreo’s Animal Rescue. They took the time to drop off unused eyeglasses at the local Lions Club. Donating blood, shoveling snow for neighbors, sharing home-baked goods, and caroling at local nursing homes were also part of their December. Most special to Kristin were the activities that meant something extra special to their family. They participated in the Wreaths Across America program at the Veterans Cemetery in Mandan—volunteers help place Christmas wreaths on the gravestones of veterans, one of which belonged to Kristin’s dad. “It does make you focus on what Christmas is about, and not getting so caught up in commercialism,” Kristin explains. “What’s nice to see with our kids is they don’t know anything different! In our family, December has always been 25 Days of Giving.” “What I realized looking back is how much I needed this. It literally helped me refocus on what was important. Advent is about getting ready for Christ. It made me think about others each day,” Brent reflects. Involving kids As the Seaks’ kids grew older, they added their efforts and ideas to the family calendar. Olivia, now eight, enjoys caroling the most. Rhett, age nine, enjoyed helping someone on the side of the road near Walmart last year. “We gave him the groceries we had just bought.” Though oldest daughter Kurra, now 24, was in college when the tradition started, she participates with a lot of the family’s activities, such as giving to people in other countries through Lutheran World Relief. “During the oil boom, the kids and I would drive around looking for anyone on the street who looked cold and would offer them hot cocoa and coffee,” Brent remembers. “What has been great about this tradition is being a witness to your kids. They see how blessed they are, and they start to look for ways to give to others without us prompting them.” The tradition grows To help family and friends see what they were working on, Kristin started a 25 Days of Giving Facebook page. The page gradually grew more likes; friends from Dickinson, Minneapolis, Washington, and even someone doing mission work in Eastern Europe started giving more mindfully during the month of December. This year, the Seaks are working harder to involve more families, inviting them to enjoy a time of fellowship while they serve others. “Rhett thought it would be great if we could get 25 families to participate in 25 Days of Giving this year,” Kristin says. “So we’re putting our best effort forward to spread the word. We’ve had a few planning meetings discussing what we could do to make a greater impact on the community this year.” She gives the example of donating blood. “What if instead of two pints of blood being donated by Brent and myself, we were able to collectively donate several gallons of blood through encouraging others to join in?” Based on input from their group planning meetings, Kristin developed a calendar of suggested giving activities in 2017, which is posted on the Facebook page. Anyone is encouraged to participate, whether in Dickinson or in another community. “Having a calendar of planned activities has been really helpful to us. It gives a guideline so we did not feel overwhelmed and aren’t scrambling to come up with an idea each day,” Brent points out. But we also have some flexibility—we can always move snow!” Kristin and Brent encourage anyone looking to participate in 25 Days of Giving to simply consider their own talents and gifts, as well as their family’s schedule and finances. “Do what works for you. Do what you think you can manage,” suggests Kristin. “If every day does not work for you, but weekends are your family time, that’s great. “This is our December. Whatever the message was [that I received six years ago], I think we were just supposed to go with it, and we have wholeheartedly gone with it,” says Kristin. Learn more: search 25 Days of Giving on Facebook. Stephanie Fong Stephanie Fong lives in Dickinson with her husband, Carter, daughter Sydney, and son Parker. Originally from Powers Lake, North Dakota, she has lived in southwestern North Dakota for over a decade.
Look What She Did: Alice Berning
Alice Berning is a painter and her canvas comes in many shapes: pumpkins, gourds, even cookies. “I started painting on pumpkins and such in 1985. I just wanted to give people something, to spread a little happiness,” explains Alice. From there, her canvas grew, but pumpkins are still her favorite. Every fall, Alice stocks up on pumpkins at local farmers’ markets, paints quirky faces on them, tops them with a flower, and then gives them away. Each pumpkin she paints includes her signature ladybug. “Everything I make has a ladybug. When kids see my work, the first thing they do is look for the ladybug, not at what I painted! If I forget a ladybug they let me know,” says Alice with a smile. Each pumpkin takes about 30 minutes to complete. One year, Alice painted 350 pumpkins. She paints each pumpkin individually; there’s no assembly line to her work. She happily gives away most of her work, but each year she sells her paintings at the annual craft sale at Bismarck’s St. Mary’s Grade School. At age 83, Alice says she is busier than she’s ever been, and has no plans to slow down or stop painting anytime soon. A musician by trade—she has a doctorate in music education and taught at the collegiate level—her hands are now stained with paint, a look she says suits her just fine.
Look What She Did: Suzy Rummel
Suzy Rummel comes from a big family. Huge, as she says. “I have nine brothers and sisters, five kids of my own, and lots of nieces and nephews,” says Suzy. And for Suzy, family is everything. She has dedicated her life to raising her kids, but as they started growing up, she started looking for more to do. She became a Mary Kay sales director, started volunteering, and worked as a receptionist for her nephew’s business. But Suzy wanted more. “I’m used to doing five things at once!” So after years of listening to her seven sisters talk about their fabric stashes and quilts they make, Suzy had an idea. She would open a quilt shop in Richardton, North Dakota, population: roughly 600. The idea quickly grew to be much more than just a quilt shop. “The closest quilt shops are in Dickinson, Hettinger, and Bismarck. I wanted something closer to home,” explains Suzy. “I have a niece who studied horticulture and wanted to open a flower shop, so we did. I love coffee and my daughter suggested we add a coffee shop. And then I thought, why not add lunch too? So we do a daily lunch special of soup and sandwich. It’s a little bit of everything.” Suzy also offers homemade and unique gifts, as well as quilting and sewing classes. Learn more on their website follow them on Facebook.
Look What She Did: Jessica Wachter
Jessica Wachter knew when she started art classes in the third grade at Solheim Elementary in Bismarck that she wanted to grow up to be an artist. Through years of continued classes, including a fine arts degree from NDSU in Fargo, her parents offered constant encouragement for her to follow her passion. “That first class I took sparked something in me and I just ran with it,” she says. “I knew from then on I wanted to do something in the creative field. Now as an adult, I feel privileged to make this my career, to share my passion with so many people. I genuinely feel this is my calling and don’t see it as work, even though the days and nights can be very long. I wake up every morning ready to get back in the studio!” At 31, Jessica has become a nationally-recognized artist, having her work shown from Florida to Arizona to California. January through March, she will be featured in the annual Scottsdale Celebration of Fine Art, sharing her work with tens of thousands of visitors. However, you don’t have to travel the country to find Jessica’s remarkable art. She is in the midst of her first Bismarck showing, #NoWords solo exhibition in The Capital Gallery, downtown Bismarck. With pieces from 10 inch square to 10 feet high, the gallery has been transformed by the beauty and diversity of her expressive art. The exhibition runs through December 31 at The Capital Gallery, 109 N. 4 Street. More details may be found at TheCapitalGallery.com, on Facebook, or by calling 701-751-1698.
Give a Donation to Save a Life
By Kylie Blanchard Deborah Vollmuth is a loyal platelet donor. While making a donation at United Blood Services can have a significant impact on the lives, treatments, and recoveries of accident victims, cancer patients, burn victims, and transplant recipients, the need for additional donations remains great. “There are a lot of people you can help with a simple donation,” says Ana Hernandez-Miller, telerecruiter with United Blood Services in Bismarck. “It is a huge impact.” It is estimated only around five percent of those who can donate do so, she says. “There are days we don’t have enough donations coming through our doors. Donors are able to provide red cell donations, platelets, plasma, or a combination of all three as a whole blood donation. We need everything and we need it all the time.” While it is dependent on the donor, Ana says one whole blood donation can benefit two to three individuals, and a red blood cell donation can reach two to four people. In addition, one patient’s need for platelets can reach up to six units per week. Joletta Vetter has been donating platelets at United Blood Services for nearly 15 years, starting at the urging of a co-worker. “A mobile donation unit was going to be at my work and I was challenged by a co-worker. I did it and have been donating ever since,” Joletta recalls. An individual is eligible to donate platelets every seven days, up to 24 times per year, and Joletta says she donates as often as possible. “I am right in town and am now retired, so I tell them if they need me, I will be there. I’ve never made an appointment.” She says she donates platelets because of the impact it has on others and she encourages individuals to consider donating as well. Serena Doepke is a whole blood donor.“Everyone who has cancer or heart disease needs platelets, and I can provide them. There are so many people that can’t donate, the ones that can, should. It’s easy and you feel good when you are done.” Ana says donors do have to meet the health history requirements listed on a questionnaire, as well as pass a check of their hemoglobin, blood pressure, and medications. “Your eligibility is determined by your health and medications,” she notes. Walk-ins are welcome for whole blood donations, but Ana recommends making an appointment for platelet and plasma donations, as those donations are done with automated machines. “We do our best to inform and prepare donors,” says Ana, adding donors are encouraged to hydrate well and eat a good meal prior to donating. “They should also take it easy after their donation. There really are very few side effects.” United Blood Services also runs monthly promotions, making individuals eligible for prizes just for showing up to donate. The holiday season is a time of great need at United Blood Services, notes Ana. “There are more people traveling and unfortunately more accidents. Our donations go down, but our needs go up.” She says the local blood bank can also be impacted by catastrophic events throughout the country, and donations during these times are also greatly needed. “You are investing a little time, but you are investing in the lives of others,” says Ana. “You are extending or saving lives. Donation is a simple, quick way to help your community and give back. It’s a lifesaving gift.” Red Blood Cells: blood transfusions, trauma and burn patients Platelets: cancer, heart, and burn patients Plasma: trauma and transplant patients, rare blood disorders Kylie Blanchard Kylie Blanchard is a local writer and editor, and busy mom of three, who enjoys both staying active with her family and the chance to just sit and read a great book.
Kayla McCloud: A Matching Gift
By Jody Kerzman ｜Photography: Photos by Jacy “Freely you received, freely give.” –Matthew 10:8 Kayla McCloud was raised on those words. In her family, helping others and giving to those in need was expected. So when Kayla got word her cousin Carla Bock might need a kidney transplant, Kayla didn’t think twice. “I immediately offered to be tested,” recalls Kayla. “In the back of my head I always thought I’d do it if someone in my family needed one. She was the one.” FAMILY HISTORY Kayla’s family has a history of Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts develop primarily within the kidneys. Over time, this causes the kidneys to enlarge and lose function. The disease runs in families, which is why Carla’s need for a kidney didn’t surprise Kayla. “My dad’s mom had PKD and three of her five kids inherited the disease. My dad didn’t, which meant since he didn’t have PKD, my brothers and I wouldn’t either. That also meant we might be good kidney donors one day.” Kidney donation also runs in her family. In 1989, Kayla’s dad, Tom Kaczynski, donated a kidney to his sister Rosemary. Nearly 30 years later, Kayla donated a kidney to her cousin Carla, who happens to be Rosemary’s daughter. “I remember my dad donating to his sister,” says Kayla. “I was in fifth grade. My mom stayed home with us and I remember the neighbors helping with chores while he was gone. I just remember he was gone for the transplant and then home to recover.” Kayla’s donation was nearly two years in the planning, starting in August 2015 when Carla’s doctors told her it was time to think about a transplant. “I knew the time was coming; it wasn’t a surprise,” recalls Carla, who lives in Wisconsin. “We were watching my numbers, the level of blood toxicity of the body. Normal is 0.6 to 1.1. Mine was hitting three to four and I knew it was coming. I had gone to visit my relatives, including Kayla’s parents, in North Dakota. I told them the time was coming. I didn’t know when, but I knew it was now a matter of when, not if I’d need a kidney. I wasn’t begging for a kidney, I just wanted them to know what was happening.” Kayla’s mom, Linda Kaczynski, not only emailed her children, but also volunteered to donate one of her kidneys. Three people—Linda, Kayla, and another cousin—all went through testing. Kayla says the testing started with bloodwork at her doctor’s office in Bismarck which was then sent to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for more tests. Doctors there called Kayla and asked her to come to Mayo for additional testing. She and her husband made the trip in November 2015. “I underwent three days of testing,” recalls Kayla. “When the testing was done, we headed home. We had only gotten to Minneapolis when we got the call from the surgeons that I was a match.” In fact, all three relatives who underwent the testing were matches for Carla. But of the three, Kayla was the closest match. Kayla, then 37, was also the youngest donor, which Carla says was another reason her doctors wanted Kayla’s kidney. Donation Delays But it would be nearly two years before the transplant would actually happen. “It was a lot of ‘hurry up and wait,’” says Carla. Shortly after doctors determined Kayla was a match, Carla discovered she needed a different surgery first. Carla and Kayla “I had open heart surgery when I was five years old. I didn’t know my heart valve would eventually need to be replaced,” she explains. “I was always tired, but I always blamed that on my kidneys. Turns out my heart was to blame.” The valve replacement actually improved Carla’s kidney function, so the kidney transplant was postponed. “Plus, I was still gaining strength and recovering from the heart surgery. I didn’t want to have another surgery and go backward in my recovery,” says Carla. “It was the best decision for my body and for Kayla. I didn’t want to get her kidney and then have complications.” By this time, it was February 2017. Because of the amount of time that had passed since the original test that confirmed Kayla as a match, surgeons wanted to test her again. That testing led to yet another setback. This time, it was Kayla’s health that put the transplant on hold. “They did a CT scan of my kidneys to check for kidney stones and ended up finding a cyst on my ovary,” recalls Kayla. Her OB-GYN in Bismarck was able to remove the cyst. After the cyst was removed and tested Kayla was once again approved to donate a kidney to her cousin. The transplant was set for June 21, 2017. DONATION DAY “Of course before they did the surgery, there was more testing,” says Kayla. “There was a chance we could have been sent home without having surgery.” Much to the relief of both women, they passed the tests and were cleared for surgery on June 21. The two were in the same operating room, side by side; Carla’s bad kidneys were removed, Kayla’s good kidney was removed, and transplanted into Carla’s body. “My surgery took only about two hours,” says Kayla. “The first thing I remember is the surgeons coming into my room and telling me what a beautiful kidney I had.” “I just don’t remember surgery being a big deal but I woke up in ICU and in my head that was wrong. I thought I should be on the same floor as Kayla,” says Carla. “They explained to me because they took my native kidneys, I had to be in ICU. Your native kidneys know how to regulate your blood pressure. This new kidney wasn’t doing that yet and my blood pressure dropped dangerously low. I didn’t anticipate that and I remember thinking I was going backward.” Carla spent just over a day in the ICU, and then three days in the hospital; that’s standard procedure for transplant recipients. She then went to the Gift of Life Transplant House in Rochester for two weeks before going home. Kayla was in the hospital for just two days. “My kidney was working right away for Carla so that was a great feeling. It was hard to hear about other families whose transplants didn’t work immediately,” remembers Kayla. RECOVERING It’s been just over five months since the transplant, and both women say the road to recovery has been relatively easy. “It’s hard to explain because I never felt bad, but I didn’t realize how sick I was. I never looked sick either. I had a belly because my kidneys were so big they were pushing my belly out. I knew I was tired but I went to work with a smile on my face,” explains Carla. “But at our four-month post-op appointment, I realized how much better my body is working now. Before the surgery, we did a 24-hour urine test; Kayla pumped out more than four liters and I barely got a liter. At our post-op, I still didn’t get as much as Kayla, but I got over three liters. My body just wasn’t functioning before.” It wasn’t functioning because Carla’s kidneys were too large to work properly. “My kidneys were 11 inches long; healthy kidneys should be the size of your fist. I was carrying around footballs when I should have been carrying baseballs,” explains Carla. “My kidneys weighed eight pounds; I got rid of 16 liters worth of fluids in the first two days with Kayla’s kidney.” Removing those enlarged kidneys has also eased what was once constant back pain for Carla. “I had back pain for years. We’re talking severe back pain. I didn’t go to bed without taking pain meds because if I did, I wouldn’t sleep. I knew it was due to my kidney issues. I haven’t had a backache since the transplant. It’s really awesome.” Carla’s recovery is going remarkably well, and while slower than she’d like, so is Kayla’s. “I was off of work for eight weeks, and even now, there are days where my energy just isn’t there. But the doctors say that’s normal,” admits Kayla. “My creatinine levels will always be up and the kidney I have left is growing to compensate for the missing kidney. Certain foods don’t agree with me, but I’m adapting. The scar from the incisions is uncomfortable sometimes too.” Kayla has three scars on her stomach: two small ones and one larger one that looks much like a C-section scar. “They warned me about those before surgery. They asked me if I’d be okay with scars on my stomach. I joked that I never wore a bikini before and I’m not about to start now so it’s all good,” she laughs. “But it took me a long time to actually look at the scar. I didn’t know what to expect and I guess I was a little scared. I made my husband check to make sure it was healing correctly.” The good news is the scars are healing. They will always be there though, a reminder of the gift Kayla so unselfishly gave to her cousin. Kayla will do yearly bloodwork in Bismarck; Carla will go to Mayo for yearly checkups, and knows the signs which would indicate her body may be rejecting the kidney. This month she will turn 50, and knows thanks to Kayla, she will have many more birthdays. “It could add as much as 25 years to my life without dialysis,” says Carla. “Kayla’s donation to me is extremely special. There is a lot of emotion to it because her dad gave to my mom 30 years ago. He was the first gift. The generosity of it is insane. Asking for a kidney was very difficult; to ask someone to make their life worse to make mine better was really hard. But Kayla didn’t hesitate for a second. “Our family has grown up with PKD. We watched our parents give and receive kidneys, and I think we all just thought that if they could do it, so could we. But generosity is a learned behavior, one that Kayla learned from her parents. It’s just insane to be on the receiving side of such a generous gift.” MORE DONATIONS NEEDED While their story is a familiar one in their family, Kayla and Carla know that many other people are not aware of just how common kidney failure is, or that oftentimes it could be prevented with a donor kidney. According to the Mayo Clinic, on any given day about 100,000 people are waiting for a kidney transplant. About 5,000 people die each year while waiting for a kidney. “It’s crazy to me to think about how many people die because they don’t get a donor,” says Carla. “Many people are not as lucky as I am to have family to turn to. I’m in a support group and I have friends who have been waiting years and years and years for a kidney. “It is the greatest gift a person can give. Thanks to Kayla’s unselfish gift, I should be able to see my daughter get married one day and have children. Without the transplant I don’t know that I would. It’s a reminder to me to be open and to be there for others that might need you.” Still, Kayla says what she did was “no big deal.” She’s focused on sharing her story in hopes that more people will sign up to be a kidney donor. She’s trying to convince her husband to start the process, and she’s confident her daughters, now ages 12 and 10, will one day do the same if given the chance to help someone. “When people say, ‘you did a heroic thing,’ I don’t think it really is. It’s just something our family does. We help others,” says Kayla, humbly. “Anything to improve her quality of life is worth it and I look at it that they wouldn’t do it if it was going to mess up my health. It’s a safe procedure.” Since donating her kidney, Kayla has crossed paths with many people who have received or given a kidney. “I feel like a member of a very special club,” she says. “Everyone knows someone who has been affected. I’ve met many of those people since this process started more than two years ago.” It’s a process that has connected these cousins in a very special way, and reaffirmed in Kayla the importance of giving. “If I had more kidneys, I’d do it again. Without a doubt,” says Kayla. Click here to see more of Kayla’s pictures by Photos by Jacy.
Wheels For Work: Hand Over the Keys (to Someone in Need)
By Tracie Bettenhaussen When’s the last time your car was in the shop for a few days? You might’ve had to have your spouse drive you to work, or have a co-worker drop you off at the shop to pick it up. If you have kids, maybe you had to have your parents loan you a car so you could play chauffeur. We rely on our wheels, to get us to work, school, and daycare. Imagine not having that convenience. In most cases, having a car is practically a necessity to keeping our jobs. The Wheels for Work program helps give vehicles to people who can’t afford to get one on their own. CCO, Inc., the charity partner at Community Options, runs a program that accepts used vehicles and gives them to people who need them. Sarah Carlson, CCO executive director, says a car can be the one possession that gets a family back on its feet. “We give vehicles to people who are employed, working on getting employed, or going to school so they can be employed,” she says. “When people are constantly struggling with transportation to hold down a job, they can’t focus on everything else they need to do to be successful.” Sarah says Wheels for Work is meant to help people who are on the path to self-sufficiency. “They are taking steps to controlling their life. Being able to work is empowering,” Sarah explains. “Some circumstances are out of people’s control: their health or the health of a child could be bad, maybe a domestic abuse situation forced a client to leave everything behind. We receive referrals from other agencies who connect us with people in need.” She says one of her recent clients is a woman who is going to school to be a certified nursing assistant. “A lot of jobs like that are shift work. We do have the bus in town, and it’s great we have public transportation, but the hours the bus runs are not helpful for shift workers. The earliest routes begin at 7 a.m. and end early in the evening,” Sarah says. “If you have a child to drop off at daycare, you can see how that system is not going to be helpful to you. An owned vehicle gives you the independence you need.” Another client was a family who had two foster children, and were asked to take in another four children to keep the siblings together. Sarah Carlson “So, suddenly this was a family of six kids. We were able to get them a van and make their circumstances much more manageable,” Sarah says. CCO partners with Missouri Slope Areawide United Way and The Bush Foundation for funding, in addition to fundraising channels. Sarah says CCO also partners with local car dealers and mechanic shops, who donate vehicles, or fix them up for free or at a reduced rate. “I really call myself a professional beggar,” she says. “I have never had a single business turn me down when I ask for help. Getting to see the generosity of this community is one of my greatest joys.” Wheels for Work has been donating cars since December 31, 2013; they have matched 54 vehicles with recipients in that time. Sarah says they could match many more, and encourages people to donate rather than sell their used cars. Those who donate their car to CCO get the maximum tax write-off. When a donated vehicle is too far beyond repair, Sarah sends it to Johnson’s Wrecking, where the car is scrapped and CCO is given cash. “The money then goes toward repairing another vehicle,” she says. Sarah says her best days are the days she is able to turn over the keys to a new car owner. “These people cry, it means so much to them,” she says. “In many cases, they don’t own anything before this, and now they have the title to a vehicle in their name. That is a powerful moment, and can be difficult to imagine until you put yourself in their shoes.” Visit ccoinc.net if you’re interested in donating a car to the Wheels for Work program. Tracie Bettenhausen is a senior staff writer/editor at Basin Electric. She has generously opened her home to two once-foster, now-adopted kitties, Basil and Sweet Pea.
Your Last Meal
By Arika Johnson If you knew you were about to eat your last meal, what would you choose to have served? In the spring of 1996, I ventured to my grandparent’s home in north Fargo, a six mile walk from the campus of Concordia College. When I walked into the house, my grandmother was sitting peacefully at the kitchen table overlooking a picturesque window. She was engulfed by the peace of the blue jays eating the seed that Grandpa placed religiously in the feeder every morning. As I joined my grandmother, she quietly got up from the table, walked into her bedroom, and brought back a photo album. She began sharing with me the stories of my ancestors, showing me photographs, sharing with me the details of my Norwegian ancestors immigrating to the United States. She spoke to me about our similarities. The photos revealed a link that connected history to the present, and at that moment, with my grandmother, I felt a belongingness I had never realized before. A strength and a love for a generation past that instilled hope for the future. I felt connected. As I talked with my grandmother, Grandpa began setting the table and preparing multiple place settings in the expectation that others would be joining us for dinner. Truthfully, I wasn’t expecting dinner and was preparing to hike back to campus. However, my grandfather had different plans. After setting the table, he quickly dialed multiple telephone numbers on his rotary telephone. One by one he invited family and neighbors to our table for dinner—last minute, no expectations. “Just come as you are,” he said. Before I knew it, the table was full of people that were important to my grandparents—neighbors, my aunt and uncle, my cousins. Dinner that evening opened with a common Norwegian table prayer; we crossed our arms and held each other’s hands, squeezing ever so softly as if to pass strength to one another. After the table prayer, Grandpa welcomed everyone, said a few short words, and began to pass the simple, but warm Midwestern food around to each person. Conversations began; we laughed and raised our water glasses to toast life’s simplicities. Little did I know, that would be the last supper I’d share with my grandparents, Harry and Helen Syvertson. Looking back, I can’t remember what exactly we ate. Instead, I remember the people at the table, the sounds of laughter, of food being enjoyed, the “come as you are” spontaneity of the simple act of sharing a meal together after a busy work day. I remember and relish in the warmth and in the love of that late afternoon spring day. From that moment on I’ve ventured out to soak in life’s simplicities. A shared meal. A simple, yet memorable event enjoyed not by the food that we eat, but instead celebrated by the presence of the people at our table. Time is our most precious of commodities. Who we choose to celebrate that time with is the most important decision that we as human beings are privileged to make. The next time you sit down at your table, ask yourself this question: Who would join me at this table if this were my last supper? Think about your response and make a promise to bring that moment to fruition. Truly, it will become one of the most precious moments of your life and will inspire you for years to come. A native of Bismarck, North Dakota, Arika Johnson now calls Devils Lake, North Dakota home. She lives there with her twin five-year-old boys, Anders and Epenn, and her husband and number one cheerleader, Paul.
Fill Your Cup: Start with Self-Care
By Dr. Stephanie Nishek, ND, CLEC The holiday season has a way of sneaking up on us. It’s done it again this year. Hustle and bustle are already noticeable in the air, along with the familiar winter chill the season brings to us in North Dakota. As we prepare for the “Season of Giving,” it is the perfect time to hunker down for a minute and think about self-care strategies. One may wonder, if ‘tis better to give than receive,’ wouldn’t self-care be considered receiving and be contradictory to the spirit of the season? I would implore you to shift that perspective by considering the adage, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” If we seek to live generously, which is defined as showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected, then taking care of the aspects of our lives that allow us to give freely quickly grows in importance. Here are three ways, both typical and unconventional, to keep your ‘cup’ from running dry: Buffer Your Stress. Sometimes we can change our external environment to be less stressful (changing jobs, for example). Other times we need to focus on buffering the effects of unavoidable stress on our physiology. The latter is where I usually focus when talking with patients. This is where we incorporate things such as regular exercise, deep breathing exercises, fostering positive social relationships, spiritual practices, and strengthening our nutritional foundation. Certain herbs, appropriately called “adaptogens,” also have a calming/buffering effect; however, I don’t recommend that you start with herbs/supplements. I find them very valuable, but without investing in necessary lifestyle changes, adding herbs is like throwing a glass of water on a house fire. Respect Your Finances. Early in my career, I attended monthly networking meetings with members from many different professions. I distinctly remember one man who worked in finance. He used this same tagline every time he started and ended a speech or conversation: “Pay yourself first.” Many of the women I know are small business owners and I don’t think this message is as consistent in the small business world as it should be. Frankly, you can’t give from an empty pocket. Applying a self-care mentality to one’s savings account, your budget, and financial future may help us better recognize where spending must stop so that long-term generosity has room to grow. Fill a Niche. There is no shortage of life-enriching opportunities around the holidays. Could your self-care practice also fill a needed gap in your community? Could your love of baking feed the underfed? Is the art you create in your downtime something that could be auctioned or donated to raise money or awareness for a worthy cause? When you allow yourself to rest, reflect, repair, and be revived, are you better able to share your best self with those around you? With some commitment and creativity, I believe the answer will be an overwhelming YES! Dr. Stephanie Nishek is a Naturopathic Doctor at Dakota Natural Health Center in Bismarck.